10/07/2002 11:00PM

'Holy' due a divine trip


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Holy Conflict must have done something to anger the racing gods, because the 5-year-old horse simply can't catch a break. Sure, he's none the wiser, but to his connections and supporters at the betting windows, the short comments in his past performances tell an agonizing story. Recent running line comments include: caught late, missed, bothered break, blocked stretch, and stumbled start.

Holy Conflict has raced in third-level allowance races on turf 10 times, and five times he has come within about a length of winning. But since a convincing win May 1, 2001, at Hawthorne, Holy Conflict has neither visited the winner's circle nor lined the pockets of win bettors.

Holy Conflict returns on Thursday at Arlington, where he faces a surprisingly deep and strong field in race seven, a third-level grass allowance.

Owned by J S Cubed Stables and trained by Gene Cilio, Holy Conflict tailed off last fall through early winter, though he managed one of his near-misses at Fair Grounds in February. In two Arlington starts this meet, Holy Conflict has been his typically vexing self, running well while failing to close the deal. He was beaten a neck in his return from a layoff on July 24, and five weeks later might have taken the lead prematurely before being caught late by G All Day, who returned to beat better horses in his next start.

The about one-mile distance of Thursday's race may well Holy Conflict's best, but bettors have good reason to be leery of this horse, regardless of form.

Other obvious contenders in the 12-horse field include Purplest, Ivan Jay Perry, and Generals Sword. Even Hotnightindixie, a sharp Illinois-bred, has a chance despite a wide draw.

Another interesting contender is Boyum, owned by Lothenbach Stables. Second to King Cugat in the Grade 2 Arlington Classic over two years ago, Boyum's career has been checkered since his 3-year-old season. He missed roughly 10 months of racing between July 2000 and May 2001, then was off again between August 2001 and Sept. 9.

If wily trainer Pat Cuccurullo is trying to obscure Boyum's form, he is doing a wonderful job. Cuccurullo brought Boyum back at tiny Great Lakes Downs, where he raced four furlongs on dirt. Neither the distance nor the surface suited Boyum, who finished fifth, and Cuccurullo has since entered and scratched Boyum from several Arlington claiming races. In the interim, Boyum has been working strongly, hinting that Cuccurullo may well have him set for a strong effort on the turf.