07/13/2010 12:00AM

Hot Cha Cha top-class, yet under the radar


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Yes, Tuscan Evening has turned into the dominant turf female in California, with wins in all five of her 2010 starts, and California being California, we all know about this development. But to take the regional clich s a step further, the quiet, unassuming Midwesterner Hot Cha Cha may give Tuscan Evening all she wants in what is shaping up as an excellent edition of the Modesty Handicap on Saturday at Arlington Park.

Hot Cha Cha is top female turf dog in this part of the country, and may be poised for a strong second half of 2010. Last year at 3, she won the Pucker Up at Arlington before cruising to a 4 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. That's right - Hot Cha Cha won the QE II by more than four lengths.

And she has done little wrong since. Trouble beat her into a closing fourth of 14 in the Mrs. Revere at Churchill, Hot Cha Cha's 2009 finale. This year, Hot Cha Cha was a troubled, closing third in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, a solid second over a boggy Churchill course in the Distaff Turf Mile, and a comfortable winner of the Locust Grove in her most recent outing. The 1 3/16-mile Modesty marks Hot Cha Cha's first start beyond 1 1/8 miles, and that probably is a good thing.

"A mile and an eighth, those are her best races," said trainer Phil Sims. "I feel more comfortable going a mile and a quarter than a mile with her. She has a lot of stamina. She's always gaining on them steady."

Hot Cha Cha is the best horse that Sims, 49, has trained in a career dating to the early 1980s. The filly's owner-breeder, Nelson McMakin, was among Sims's earliest clients. Five years ago, Sims acquired Spring Trace Farm near Georgetown, Ky., giving him stalls to house horses away from the racetrack, and a seven-furlong turf oval over which to train. Sims said he gives some horses regular spells at the farm, while others remain stabled ontrack. Hot Cha Cha went to Spring Trace after winning the Locust Grove, then moved on to Keeneland, where she has done all her training for the Modesty. She travels to Arlington by van on Friday.

As for Hot Cha Cha's continued low profile, the soft-spoken Sims could hardly care less. "That's kind of typical with a smaller outfit, I guess," he said. "It doesn't bother us at all."

Five considered likely for Modesty

Hot Cha Cha and Tuscan Evening are two of five horses considered likely runners in the Modesty, which also has attracted talented Rainbow View. Eclaire de Lune, a French import twice started in the U.S. and owned by Arlington chairman Dick Ducshossois, also is expected to run, as is locally based Askbut I Won'ttell.

Sweet and Flawless and Sweet Relish are possible runners, while trainer Tom Albertrani confirmed Tuesday that Gozzip Girl will run in the Robert Dick on Saturday at Delaware Park.

Saturday's Arlington Handicap also is coming up a good race, with defending champ Just As Well expected to face General Quarters, Marsh Side. Free Fighter, Forest Attack, Princeville Condo, Rahystrada, Rumor Has It, and Tajaaweed.

Nine 3-year-olds are considered likely entrants in the American Derby, which is going head to head with the richer Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs. The prospective field includes Arlington Classic winner Workin' For Hops, Asphalt, Dean's Kitten, Marcello, Gleam of Hope, Mint Chip, Mister Marti Gras, and Bogie. Formulaforsuccess may be entered at both Arlington and Colonial.