06/09/2005 12:00AM

Kirby gets ready to pucker up


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Kissin' Frank Kirby won the Arlington training title last season, but the victories this year have come in a trickle, not a torrent. A month into Arlington '05, and following on the heels of a strong run at Hawthorne over the winter, Kirby has gotten just two chances to blow his trademark kisses to the camera leaving the winner's circle following a victory.

Kirby isn't swinging and missing; he's just not getting many pitches to hit. Despite starting almost 50 horses at Arlington, Kirby has run only a handful of favorites. The horses that fit races at Hawthorne have been ill-suited to the ones at Arlington.

But that's not the case with Cloudy's Knight, who should be favored and very tough to beat here Saturday in the $40,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap. Carded for 1 1/2 miles on turf, the Mac Diarmida drew a field of eight grass horses, with Iosilver entered only for dirt.

Only comes anywhere close to Cloudy's Knight's class level, and if Gin and Sin struggled to get 1 1/8 miles, can he stretch his speed out to 1 1/2 miles?

Probably not, if runs his race. Now 5, Cloudy's Knight came to hand last season, winning four times. With better luck, he might have won the Grade 3 Carey Memorial at Hawthorne last October, and with just a little more oomph, he might have won the Grade 3 River Cities six weeks later at Churchill Downs. Cloudy's Knight has no brilliant turn of foot, no overwhelming galloping pace, but he's a steady grinder with some class. He finished third, beaten one length, in the May 30 Mister Gus Stakes, his first start since the River Cities, and while Cloudy's Knight might be best at distances around nine furlongs, he should run effectively at 12 furlongs facing a field of this class.

While Gin and Sin has thrived at distances around a mile, he could steal the Mac Diarmida if permitted to dawdle on a false pace, a race scenario that on paper appears possible. Trained in Kentucky by Darrin Miller, Gin and Sin finished a head behind Cloudy's Knight on this course last season before finishing just in front of him in the Carey.

crushed a second-level allowance field going nine furlongs on dirt in his last start, running very fast in the process. If the race is switched to dirt because of rain, Iosilver becomes the one to beat.