09/16/2004 12:00AM

Honor in War renews career

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Ticker Tape, one of the two favorites in the featured Pucker Up Stakes, will not be the only Grade 1 winner racing Saturday at Arlington. Honor in War, who won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in the spring of 2003, is among the 10 horses entered in the John Henry, a $42,000 overnight stakes at 1 1/16 miles on grass.

The John Henry is a point of departure for Honor in War, who hasn't raced since May 1, when he finished fifth in this year's Woodford Reserve. Not long after that race, Honor in War developed a quarter crack, which at one point was patched, but proved difficult to fully repair. Finally, in mid-summer, Honor in War got back to business, and he has been breezing steadily at Arlington as part of the Kentucky-based trainer Paul McGee's satellite operation.

"You never know when they've been off like that, but the horse has been doing really good - as good he's ever done," McGee said. "The only question in my mind is fitness. His breezes up there have all been good."

A favorable performance Saturday probably would send Honor in War to the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and McGee said he wouldn't rule out a start in the Breeders' Cup Mile "if everything went off without a hitch."

But first, there is the matter of the John Henry, in which Honor in War has post 9. And while none of his opponents is as accomplished as Honor in War, there are horses with solid credentials here.

Gin and Sin comes out of a one-length win in an $85,000 turf stakes at Mountaineer Park, and has improved steadily through this season for trainer Darrin Miller.

"I'm really happy with the way that horse has been doing this summer," Miller said. "He's gotten really confident, and he shows that in the morning with the way he works. He knows when he needs to turn it on."

Gin and Sin has speed, but it is rateable speed, and from post 2 he can track the pace or take the lead and get first run on the closing Honor in War.

Rocky River no lock in futurity

Entries were taken Thursday for Arlington's closing-day card Sunday, a program that includes the Arlington-Washington Futurity and the Arlington-Washington Lassie, both one-turn-mile dirt races for 2-year-olds.

Only six were entered in the Futurity, a Grade 3 with a $200,000 purse. Rocky River, who easily won the Spectacular Bid over seven furlongs in his last start, and is unbeaten in two races, figures to be favored. Three Hour Nap, however, a good one-mile allowance winner three weeks ago, and also undefeated in two starts, should be competitive.

There are nine in the Lassie, and its field appears more competitive. Runway Model is the possible favorite, with a close second in the $100,000 Bassinet in her last start and Robby Albarado in to ride. Mary Alex, who was second to the colt Three Hour Nap in an allowance prep for this start, looks like a contender, with blowout Arlington maiden winner Culinary and Ellis Park Debutante winner Kota also in with a chance.

Asmussen resumes title fight

Steve Asmussen returned from a two-week suspension on Thursday, and won the first race on the card, pulling within two wins of leading trainer Frank Kirby. But Kirby struck back one race later, giving him 30 victories for the season and a three-win lead on Asmussen.

Asmussen, leading the country in wins, already has won training titles at six different tracks this year, and he concedes he's going for another at Arlington.

"I was in the vicinity, you know, so I guess I am," Asmussen said Thursday from the Keeneland sale.

Asmussen was to have started horses in four races on Friday. He runs in seven races Saturday, but got into just three races Sunday, though he said he entered nine horses in races that didn't make it onto the program.

This is Asmussen's best year at Arlington, where he keeps stock not suited to major meets in Kentucky and New York.

Asmussen was to have run Fi, an impressive maiden winner three weeks ago, in Sunday's Lassie, but the filly pulled up badly after a work, Asmussen said, and will be out until next year.

Apt to Be sets 7 1/2-furlong record

Apt to Be set a track record at the rarely run 7 1/2-furlong distance, winning Wednesday's Dr. Fager Stakes by a nose over Arbitrate. Apt to Be, who scored his first victory of the year, was timed in 1:28.81, .02 faster than the previous mark.

Owned by Arlington Park chairman Dick Duchossois, and trained by Chris Block, Apt to Be had solid efforts in his previous two starts but finished second in both of them.

"He's not the most comfortable horse when he's stuck down inside, but he's a tough son-of-a-gun and he has a big heart," Block said.

Apt to Be could show up later either at Churchill or Hawthorne.

* Coach Jimi Lee was scratched from the Dr. Fager to run in instead in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup on Oct. 8 at Keeneland, trainer Jim DiVito said.