07/14/2003 12:00AM

Lacer may be a price again


CHICAGO - They go on and on, the past performances for Arlington's featured race on Wednesday.

An $80,000 optional claiming race on turf hit a sweet spot in the schedule, drawing 13 entrants. Twelve are in for turf, while Horrible Evening runs only if the race moves to the main track.

In a thoroughly solid group, Lacer may escape notice. He did last time, and those astute enough to recognize his ability on June 27 uncovered a $43 winner. When he started that day, Lacer hadn't raced since

Nov. 23, but with a series of long-distance workouts, trainer Charlie Livesay had Lacer ready for action. Running from off the pace, Lacer weaved in and out of trouble during an eventful stretch run but still won a second-level allowance going away. Wednesday, he skips an allowance condition to start in this 1 1/16-mile race, but the 4-year-old Lacer still has upside and may pull his second straight upset.

"I know it's a tough race, but I like his chances very well," Livesay said Monday morning.

Livesay and Lacer fans can hang their hope on the $100,000 John Henry here last October. Lacer had both a bad trip and the wrong kind of trip that day - a natural stalker, he raced too close to the lead - but he still finished a close fourth behind Tap the Admiral, who recently won the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap.

Lacer raced just once more in 2002, a non-effort in a Hawthorne allowance race, then spent much of the next several months turned out.

"He got a little sick on me this spring, so we took our time," said Livesay. "I don't think we took too much out of him in that last race. He should be okay."

The tough-luck Holy Conflict deserves to be favored, though Arlington's turf course has become his personal horror show. Thirteen times Holy Conflict has raced on the grass here, running well race after race and still failing to win. Last time he wasn't close, finishing sixth in the Sea o'Erin Breeders' Cup, but Holy Conflict's connections opt for the $80,000 claiming price here, and therefore the horse takes a meaningful class drop.

Horrible Evening is the lone dirt-only entrant, but Fifty Stars and Dulce de Leche also would benefit from a switch from turf to dirt. Fifty Stars, injured in the 2001 Kentucky Derby and hurt again the following winter, has gradually been coming around for trainer Steve Asmussen, and rates an edge on dirt.