07/24/2002 11:00PM

If it's 'Legend' of yore, Modesty will be a breeze

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Challengers on Saturday in the Modesty Handicap can only hope the England's Legend who shows up at Arlington this year isn't the same one who raced here last summer.

If she regains last year's form, England's Legend should win the Modesty comfortably and go on to defend her title a month from now in the Grade 1 Beverly D., which she won last summer by almost eight lengths.

But England's Legend has not raced since finishing 11th nine months ago in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and some local horsemen have hung their hopes on this reasoning: If England's Legend were thriving, why would trainer Christophe Clement ship her from New York, where she could have run Saturday in the Grade 2 Diana Handicap at Saratoga?

For Clement, the answer is simple. "I have Voodoo Dancer to run in the Diana," he said.

Admittedly, Clement wasn't eager to take on the tougher competition that figures to show up at Saratoga - not yet at least. "It's her first race back from the Breeders' Cup, and this might be a kinder spot for her," he said.

According to Clement, England's Legend's long gap between races is by design, not necessity. "We've just been giving her a long break. The major racing is just getting started now."

A 5-year-old Lure mare owned by Edouard de Rothschild, England's Legend has won half of her 10 starts, and like her sire, her best races come when she races on the lead. In the Beverly D., England's Legend jumped out front on a boggy grass course and ran by herself the entire race. On paper, she and jockey Rene Douglas should have the lead to themselves again Saturday in the 1 3/16-mile Modesty.

Ioya Two, the Illinois-bred mare who won the Modesty last year, has the tactical speed to stay in touch with England's Legend, but whether she still has the ability to finish with her is unclear. After winning 5 of 7 starts last season, the 7-year-old Ioya Two is winless in four races this year, though her last major breeze for the Modesty was excellent.

Other major contenders are Innit, a Grade 2 winner who recently shipped here from Southern California; and Lady of Peace, who finished powerfully winning a good allowance race three weeks ago.

Windward Passage vs. Pass Rush

Trainer Steve Asmussen beat Pass Rush three weeks ago in the Iowa Derby with Easyfromthegitgo. Saturday, he will try to beat him at Arlington in the $100,000 Round Table, this time with Windward Passage.

The task isn't easy. Easyfromthegitgo is a more proven racehorse than Windward Passage - and Pass Rush may still be moving up.

Windward Passage and Pass Rush probably will be the top betting choices in the Round Table. An ungraded stakes for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs on dirt, the Round Table swelled to a field of 10 when entries were taken Thursday.

Pass Rush, owned by Michael Tabor and trained in Kentucky by Pat Byrne, has traveled to Arlington before. Off an easy maiden win at Churchill he was a 1-2 favorite in a listed 2-year-old stakes last year, but came out of the gate terribly and cost himself a win.

Worse things were ahead. Byrne said Pass Rush cooled out lame following a disappointing effort in the Sept. 3 Cradle Stakes at River Downs and needed season-ending surgery to remove a bone chip from his left knee.

But only a conk on the head has kept his form this season from looking entirely imposing entering the Round Table.

Pass Rush won a sprint allowance in his comeback race, but in the Sir Barton at Pimlico - the race Sarava used as a springboard to his Belmont Stakes win - Pass Rush jumped up in the gate and hit his head - hard. "He smacked his head," Byrne said, "and then they opened the gate. He ran around there like a drunk man."

The excuse seems valid. Pass Rush quickly returned to win a one-turn mile allowance at Churchill, then showed he could negotiate a route of ground with his narrow loss to Easyfromthegitgo. He makes his first start at nine furlongs Saturday, but Byrne does not doubt his colt will stay the trip.

Windward Passage won the Grade 3 Rebel in late March and was third in the Arkansas Derby, but has yet to move forward from those races. Excluded at the last minute from the Kentucky Derby, Windward Passage could manage only a fourth in the Lone Star Derby and a sixth in the Jefferson Cup, his first race on turf.

Seven weeks have passed since Windward Passage last raced, however, and his work pattern at Arlington has been strong. "I think he's back on his feet now," Asmussen said.