10/15/2001 11:00PM

Hollendorfer's lead has almost vanished


CHICAGO - With only nine days of racing remaining at Arlington as of Thursday, the trainers' race still is very much up for grabs. Jerry Hollendorfer, the perennially dominant northern California trainer who spent his first summer in Chicago this year, has led virtually from the meet's inception in mid-June. But after opening a seven-winner lead less than two weeks ago, Hollendorfer's edge was trimmed to two on Sunday by Wayne Catalano, the defending champion, who has been in pursuit all summer. Through Sunday's races, Hollendorfer had won 34 of 194 starts, Catalano 32 of 113.

Both appear to be pushing for the title, dropping horses in class and bringing some back on relatively short rest. The battle should continue until the meet's conclusion and figures prominently Thursday, when Catalano has three horses entered, Hollendorfer two.

Hollendorfer starts the most noteworthy horse on the program, The Lord's Tune, who's entered for $50,000 in an optional claiming race carded as the eighth.

The Lord's Tune, a speed filly owned by Peter Abruzzo and George Todaro, has won five times at the Arlington meet alone and six times in a row overall.

During her streak she has battered starter-allowance company and beaten males three times, and she comes out of a decisive win in a second-level allowance.

The Lord's Tune does face a formidable rival in Kerry Blue, who won a stakes race at Prairie Meadows earlier this summer.

Catalano, the private trainer for leading owner Frank Calabrese, strikes first in the opener, where Lear Skywalker will be a heavy favorite in a short field. The name will ring a bell with Arlington regulars, since the filly just ran on Friday. She won easily in the slop that day and comes back in a race at the same class level, shortening up from a mile to six furlongs. Catalano has won with the last two horses he started on a week's rest or less, but Lear Skywalker has never won a sprint.

Catalano has Dancing Gamble for the sixth, a $25,000 claimer for older route horses. Dancing Gamble, a $35,000 claim in Sept. 16, has just gotten out of claiming "jail," and his connections waste no time dropping him below the last claim price, but he looks live in an eight-horse field given the way he ran in a third-level allowance race here Oct. 6.

Hollendorfer and Catalano go head to head in the ninth, a $35,000 turf claimer for 3-year-old fillies. Both have last-race claims to start, Catalano with Flatline, who may have been entered in hopes of a switch to dirt, and Hollendorfer with Blue Sky Belle, unplaced in her last four starts but with a win over this turf course in early July.