06/03/2004 11:00PM

Home Court on a mission

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CHICAGO - The filly Home Court could run for more money in a second-level allowance race at her home track - Churchill Downs - than she does Sunday at Arlington Park in the $38,000 Ribbon Stakes. But Home Court's connections are willing to sacrifice the purse money for a stakes win, even of the minor variety.

You see, there is an investment at stake here: Home Court, the product of a mating between Storm Cat and the champion mare Jewel Princess, cost $650,000 at the Keeneland September sale of 2002. It is charged to trainer Ken McPeek to make a racehorse out of her - and to enhance the filly's resume.

"We're looking for some black type," McPeek said.

With just two starts, Home Court has less racing experience than the other six horses in the six-furlong Ribbon. But she has won both of them, including a debut victory over the graded-stakes filly La Reina last summer at Saratoga, when Jim Bond trained her. In her first start for McPeek, Home Court ran just about as well, beating 10 opponents in an entry-level allowance May 16 at Churchill.

"She had some shin issues, and we were pretty conservative about getting her ready," McPeek said. "She's a very good filly."

Home Court is one of three Churchill Downs-based fillies in for the Ribbon. Fashion Girl is here for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, while Saltwater Runner, trained by Bob Holthus, figures to be favored under jockey Rene Douglas. Saltwater Runner has busted twice in stakes races, including a fifth April 29 in the Grade 3 La Troienne, but also has won two stakes.

In fact, the Ribbon sports surprising depth for a race at this class level. Silver Crown, a three-time winner, raced on a dead rail in a recent Arlington allowance start. Anapest won half of her four starts at age 2, while Bad Kitty went 3 for 5; both horses make their 3-year-old debuts in the Ribbon.

And finally there is Bold Bayou Baby, a bargain Arkansas-bred with three straight wins. "It gets a little tougher every time," said trainer Spanky Broussard.

The tough one May 10 at Hawthorne was Bold Bayou Baby, who came back to win after being passed in the stretch by a talented older filly named Rich City Girl.

"I did the same thing I did with her before the Hawthorne race," Broussard said. "She's still the same high-priced filly as before."

Bold Bayou Baby cost $2,700 at auction - less than one-half of 1 percent of Home Court's purchase price. Out on the racetrack, there is no such gulf.

McPeek targeting several stakes

McPeek is one of several Kentucky-based horsemen operating a "B" string at Arlington this summer, but McPeek also will seek to take advantage of the stakes schedule here. One horse definitely slated to run at this meet is the talented turf horse Hard Buck, who has not started since a trip to Dubai in March. McPeek said Hard Buck will make his comeback in the Stars and Stripes Handicap on July 4.

Two other turf horses, Art Variety and Prodigus, also could be headed to Arlington for stakes starts, said McPeek, while Best Minister, a romping Churchill allowance winner in his last start, is a candidate for the Washington Park Handicap on July 31.

On the Course steps up for Stidham

While Herculated, a stakes-level turf horse in the Mike Stidham stable, recovers from a tender hoof, On the Course is making his bid for stakes competition. Thursday, On the Course won for the fourth time in five career starts, stepping up in class to win a third-level grass allowance race by a length over Scooter Roach.

Forgive Stidham for not penciling in an ambitious summer campaign. "I've learned not to get too excited," Stidham said. "You get knocked down enough in this business."

On the Course will be nominated to a variety of turf stakes races, Stidham said, but where he will run is uncertain. Racing on a sodden grass course Thursday, On the Course came between horses at the top of the stretch, put his head down, and won going away.

"He went around there and took care of business," Stidham said.

The Illinois-bred Scooter Roach was entered for the $62,500 optional claiming price, and was claimed by the Butterfly Stable and trainer Dave Kassen.