08/14/2001 11:00PM

Kris's Sleigh a turf horse on the rise

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - What a nice way to start the weekend. With $2.1 million in Grade 1 stakes money on the line Saturday in Arlington's International Festival of Racing, Friday's 10-race card, with the John Henry Stakes as the feature, is a tasty appetizer.

Handicappers and casual fans alike can sink their teeth into the $60,000-added John Henry, named for the two-time winner of the Arlington Million. Run at 1 1/16 miles on turf, the race attracted a full and highly competitive field of 12. In fact, it is difficult to know where analysis begins.

There is not a toss-out among the entrants, though Chilean import Ile St. Louis, making his first start in the United States, certainly qualifies as a mystery horse. But there is nothing mysterious about turfers like Dernier Croise and Buff, who have been kicking around the Midwest for years.

Both 6-year-olds, Dernier Croise and Buff spent the spring and early summer racing at Churchill, where they finished one-two in a July 8 allowance race. The David Carroll-trained Dernier Croise, especially, is in good form, and is very dangerous at this class level.

Other former graded stakes horses, like Chorwon, Swamp, and Raypour, are less competitive in top company now, but perfectly capable of winning the John Henry. The 8-year-old Chorwon, trained by Hal Wiggins, is cutting back from the 12 furlongs of Arlington's Stars and Stripes, and was a good second to Royal Strand in his start before that stakes. The lightly raced Swamp still is searching for his 3-year-old form of 1999, when he won the Grade 2 Jersey Derby. European import Raypour, who tried Grade 1 company earlier in the year, was put up to first in a recent allowance race here.

But the pick here, Kris's Sleigh, doesn't have the credentials of those horses. A one-timer claimer, Kris's Sleigh has developed into a formidable turf runner under owner-trainer Louie Roussel and his assistant, Lara Van Daren. A 5-year-old Kris S. horse, Kris's Sleigh has won five of his last nine starts, and won three times at Fair Grounds this winter.

Kris's Sleigh is able to set a quick pace on turf and maintain his speed over a distance of ground. Off since a win at Fair Grounds on March 25, Kris's Sleigh raced here July 19 in a high-end allowance race. Roussel feared the horse was a race away from his best, and his fears came to fruition when the ultra-sharp Jake the Flake ran down Kris's Sleigh in deep stretch. But Kris's Sleigh, who worked an easy three furlongs on turf Wednesday, should be set to move forward, and is well drawn outside Buff, the only other potential speed in the race.

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