05/13/2004 11:00PM

Intern favors switch to dirt

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - As they dotted the I's and crossed the T's on Friday morning at Arlington Park, preparing for the first racing program of the 2004 season later in the afternoon, rain fell steadily from densely packed low clouds. Nobody here was dancing for a wet opener - but neither were Intern's people crying for a break in the weather.

Thursday, Intern had been entered in Arlington's featured eighth race Sunday, along with about half of the horses on the backstretch, or so it seemed. The race, carded for about one mile on turf, drew 14 entries, a stark contrast to the short fields on Friday's opening-day card. The 14 entries include three also-eligibles and one main-track-only horse, Baker Road, with 10 in the body of the field.

False Promises, a Grade 3 winner last season at age 3, is in that group and ready to make his seasonal debut. So is Intern, who is scheduled to start on turf or dirt, according to trainer Lara Van Deren. Unraced since December, Intern was entered two weekends ago in a Hawthorne turf race, and Van Deren and owner Louie Roussel had hoped for a weather-related switch to dirt. When the switch didn't come and the race stayed on wet grass, Intern was scratched.

But even if they intend to run on either surface, Roussel and Van Deren might prefer Intern to race on dirt. That is where he stayed throughout his 2002 (short and unsuccessful) and 2003 (much better) campaigns. Intern's last turf start, in September 2001, was bittersweet. He won the $121,000 Sea O'Erin Handicap here that day but suffered an injury that took him out of action for more than a year. Since then, Intern has had his moments, but has won just once, Dec. 27 at Hawthorne, his final start of 2003.

Now 8, Intern is a fine miler on his day. Van Deren, Roussel's assistant the last several seasons, and the operation's trainer of record right now at Arlington, rode Intern herself in a Wednesday breeze and said Intern was fit and ready to go.

"He trains so hard, you don't have to breeze him that much." she said. "I really like him right now. He's sharp."

False Promises might not be sharp enough to win here Sunday. Not that trainer Tony Granitz doesn't have him ready to run, but False Promises's best races last year came at nine furlongs and beyond, and Granitz's first main goal this summer is the Stars and Stripes Handicap, a 12-furlong race.

"He's doing good, but it's kind of a prep for bigger and better things down the road," Granitz said.

And there are plenty of others to consider. Major Rhythm is a natural turf miler who runs best at Arlington. Mired out on the also-eligible list is another highly rated contender, Moonshine Hall.

Plenty entered for opening day

There was concern at Arlington over short fields when entries for opening day and Saturday were taken Wednesday. The entry box remained open until late in the afternoon, and even then, Friday's nine-race card drew only a 63 entries.

A day later, things had completely turned around. Sunday's program, drawn Thursday, filled crisply, with 92 horses, including overflow fields in three grass races.

"It's just having certain races scheduled for the right day," said Arlington's racing secretary Frank Gabriel. "The races we had for Friday and Saturday were more mixed with what had been going on over (at Hawthorne)."

"That's life," Gabriel said of the difficult double-draw Wednesday. "I'm not alarmed. You always have to hustle. I don't think there's a racetrack in the country that doesn't have to hustle."

Another second for Runaway Victor

Runaway Victor, master of the place finish, is back in business.

Mike Reavis claimed Runaway Victor, an 8-year-old, for $25,000 from trainer Doug Matthews early last fall and tried to make a dirt horse out of him. Four bad losses later, Matthews, who has been around Runaway Victor since the horse was a yearling, got him back for $4,000 in December.

The first thing Matthews and new owner Jim Kelley did was turn Runaway Victor out for three months. On May 8, Runaway Victor made his 2004 debut, running second for a $12,000 claiming tag in a Hawthorne turf race.

Runaway Victor's finish position wasn't surprising. In 69 lifetime starts, Runaway Victor has won six times with a startling 21 second-place finishes.

Matthews said, "He went over $300,000 in earnings last time. He gets $5,000 every time he runs second. He's made over $100,000 running second. He's a neat old boy."

Wiggins may try Hanshin next

Wiggins, an Illinois-bred colt, was a sharp winner of a Prairie Meadows allowance race last Saturday night, and trainer Tony Granitz said Wiggins is likely to run next in the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap here May 29.

Apt to Be, a possible opponent for Wiggins in the Hanshin, worked a half-mile here Wednesday in a bullet 46.60 seconds. Trainer Chris Block said another workout next week would determine whether Apt to Be goes in the Hanshin or an allowance race here.