07/27/2005 12:00AM

How Billy Allen went from Serbia to Chicago

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There are roads less traveled, and then there are roads never traveled. Just try plotting the route Billy Allen has taken to Saturday's Washington Park Handicap at Arlington.

Bred in Ireland (nobody around him now can tell you the why and wherefore of his name) in 2001, Billy Allen spent his 2-year-old season knocking around English racecourses, on which he made 11 starts and scored one nondescript win. Taken to an auction at Newmarket, Billy Allen was purchased by a pair of Serbian buyers, who brought him home and won - take a deep breath here - the Serbian triple crown.

Racing six times at Belgrade (think pre-Soviet break-up Yugoslavia), and once at a (more) minor venue, and running exclusively on dirt, Billy Allen was unstoppable at 3, winning all seven of his starts by a combined 28 1/2 lengths. For whatever that's worth.

Enter the French trainer Patrice Chappet, who speaks fluent English and was able to fill in the details of this unlikely horse story on Wednesday at Arlington. Billy Allen's Serbian owners were ready to hunt bigger game, and they found Chappet, by his best guess, while perusing the Internet.

"Winter dirt racing in France is at Cagnes-sur-Mer," said Chappet. "I guess they looked it up to see who was doing well there, and we were winning a lot of races."

Thus began phase three of the Billy Allen saga, though no one's knocking down the door to buy the movie rights. But since moving to Chappet's barn, Billy Allen has become the best dirt horse in Europe. He participated in a five-race, all-weather-track series, winning listed stakes in France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, and suffering a bad trip when he lost the English leg of the series. After the first two wins, Gary Tanaka bought Billy Allen, and Chappet said Tanaka, who lives in London, is eager to match his horse against American dirt runners.

"[Tanaka] loves to take a challenge," Chappet said. "He's a pretty good horse, and we came to America to see what he can do, but we know it will be a completely different story here."

Perfect Drift heavy favorite

Billy Allen was one of seven entered in the Grade 2, $300,000 Washington Park, and he has attracted the services of leading rider Shaun Bridgmohan. If Billy Allen is as decent as he appears on paper, he will have a chance in Saturday's race, where Perfect Drift, an easy winner of the 2003 Washington Park, figures to be a big favorite.

Perfect Drift has raced just three times this season and missed a start in the Hollywood Gold Cup earlier this month with an ulcerated eye. Johnson said Wednesday that the problem has cleared up, and Perfect Drift was scheduled to ship here from Kentucky on Thursday, school in the paddock Friday, and take his position in the starting gate under Mark Guidry on Saturday.

The others in the race are Cryptograph, Fantasticat, Freefour-internet, Home of Stars, and Mambo Train.

Guidry makes a quick impact

It seemed nice and all that Mark Guidry had decided to come back to Arlington Park this summer after he had ridden out the Churchill Downs meet that ended earlier this month.

Who knew Guidry was going to be riding like a force of nature?

In just two weeks of Arlington action, Guidry has taken over seventh-place in the jockey standings, with 18 winners from only 53 mounts. The riders ahead of him all have three to five times more rides than Guidry, but don't be surprised if he cracks the top five before season's end.

Guidry hasn't spent a full season here since 2000, when he captured his second riding title with 145 winners. He started the 2001 Arlington season, but left partway through, ending his reign as Arlington's top dog and ushering in the Rene Douglas era. Guidry, fifth all-time with 933 Arlington victories, could have gone to Saratoga this summer off a strong Churchill meet, where he finished third in the standings, but chose instead a homecoming of sorts.

It has been even longer since Fred Aime was here: 1995, when he had Pat Day's book, to be precise. But as the agent for Guidry and the good young rider Brian Hernandez Jr., Aime's phone was ringing off the hook at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"I've had a lot of riders, but never one that finishes as strong as him," Aime said of Guidry. "From the three-sixteenths to the wire, I'll take Guidry."

Aime, of course, is getting paid to promote his jock. But Guidry, at 46, seems to have more spark now than he did at the end of his long Chicago tenure.

"I guess the last four years when I ventured out, I had the opportunity to ride with a lot of great riders," Guidry said. "Watching them, people like [Jerry] Bailey, you're going to pick something up. You always have the ability to learn if you open your eyes and watch. You never know all there is to know about riding."

What Guidry has known for a long time is Arlington. Unlike a typical new arrival, who would require a period of getting used to the local conditions and quirks, Guidry simply picked up where he left off.

"I know this turf course pretty good, I know the main track pretty good," he said. "It's a pretty big factor coming in, not having to take a week or two to familiarize yourself. It's like coming home."