10/25/2001 11:00PM

Illusioned heads Ack Ack


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It must be that time. Time for the clocks to change and for early nightfall. Time for the move from Keeneland to Churchill Downs. Time for 3-year-olds to be considered virtual equals with their elders.

And time for 3-year-old Illusioned, who will be the highweight and likely favorite in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap when Churchill opens its 24-day fall meet Sunday, to start winning again.

"He's been a good 3-year-old coming on," said Ralph Nicks, assistant to trainer Bill Mott. "He's been second in a couple of tough graded races," the King's Bishop and Jerome, in his last two starts. "It looks like he's got the makings of a good horse. It's time for him to go on."

Illusioned, owned by a three-way partnership of Team Valor, Kinsman Stable, and Bill Heiligbrodt, arrived Tuesday from New York, moving from Mott's Belmont base to join his 30-horse Churchill string. A Woodman colt, he will carry 118 pounds when he faces 10 others in the $100,000 Ack Ack, the first of 10 graded stakes to be run at the fall meet.

Another 3-year-old, Dream Run, appears to be Illusioned's main rival in the 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack, although Pat Day defects from Dream Run in favor of Illusioned. Day rode Dream Run to a 5 1/2-length victory in his last start, the Perryville at Keeneland. Jon Court, who rode Dream Run to a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby in March, gets the mount back Sunday.

One of the top older horses in the race is District, who has not raced in over nine months. District was an impressive winner of the Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds in January in his last start.

"It's a tall order, especially the 7 1/2 furlongs first time back," said Frank Brothers, who trains District, a 4-year-old Broad Brush colt, for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. "That's a demanding distance for a horse, but we're going to take a chance."

The rest of the field is Liberty Gold, Chindi, Strawberry Affair, Fappie's Notebook, Murph's Encore, Panner, Fan the Flame and Sure Shot Biscuit.

South Florida invader Fappie's Notebook is one of a handful of sleepers, having posted a come-from-behind victory in the Oct. 13 Smile Sprint Handicap in his last start.

Another possibility is Liberty Gold, a Rusty Arnold-trained veteran who has earned nearly $600,000. In particular, the unusual 7 1/2-furlong distance may suit Liberty Gold well.

The Ack Ack, named for the 1971 Horse of the Year, is just the first of what always turns out to be a terrific slate of stakes here in the fall.

The four-week meet will end on the usual high note, with the richest race of the meet, the $400,000 Clark Handicap, serving as the highlight of Thanksgiving Day weekend. While a number of top older horses from this area normally show up in the Grade 2 Clark, the race also could get carryovers from the Breeders' Cup Classic, given the four-week time period between races.

The other major stakes this fall include the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff on Nov. 3, the $150,000 Mrs. Revere Stakes on Nov. 17, the $250,000 Falls City Handicap on Nov. 22, and the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and $200,000 Golden Rod on closing day, Nov. 24. All are Grade 2 races except the Falls City, which is a Grade 3.

First post daily is 12:40 p.m., and darkness usually falls soon after the last race. Racing is conducted six days a week in the fall, versus five days in the spring.

Besides the Ack Ack, the 10-race opener also includes two allowances and the first leg of the popular Trails End marathon series.