09/19/2008 12:00AM

Lack of pace may thwart Love Handles


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When Love Handles won a division of the Illinois Owners Stakes last September at Arlington Park, the race was named for once-prominent Illinois owner Ada Rice. This time, Sunday's closing-day $100,000 Illinois Owners Stakes is named for Nancy Vanier, which is fitting, since Mrs. Vanier is indirectly responsible for Love Handles' presence on this earth.

Mrs. Vanier co-owns Love Handles with Cartwright Thoroughbreds and bred the mare along with her husband, the pretty-much legendary Midwest trainer Harvey Vanier, who still makes regular appearances at Arlington both morning and afternoon, but has ceded control of the Vanier racing string to son-in-law Brian Williamson.

An abler student of pedigree than Nancy Vanier is not likely to be found anywhere in Illinois, and the Vaniers have for years successfully bred and raced their own horses. Sometimes, one wonders what a racetrack could have been thinking when naming a stakes, but not in this case.

The thing with Love Handles, however, is that she seemed to be in better form when she won the Illinois Owners in 2007 than she does coming into the race this year. Granted, Love Handles enters the 1 1/16-mile turf race after a 3 1/4-length second-level turf allowance victory, but Love Handles got a perfect setup and did not beat an especially accomplished field. With a fast half-mile pace in front of her, Love Handles whipped past tiring leaders, but Saturday, she lands in what appears to be a paceless race.

The horse who could show the way is Si Si Mon Ami, who has been based all summer at Arlington, but has yet to start in a race here. Trained by Tony Granitz for Captain Jack Racing LLC, Si Si Mon Ami has made her last three starts at Mountaineer Park, with a win, a place, and a show in three stakes races there. But the turf at Mountaineer, fast-playing and sometimes speed-favoring, presents a completely different situation than the turf at Arlington, and Si Si Mon Ami has yet to post a win at a distance beyond one mile.

Royal Leah could get the perfect trip, sitting just in behind Si Si Mon Ami, and perhaps pushing past her in the stretch. Royal Leah did not fire when her grass race was rained onto Polytrack on Sept. 4, but she finished a good second in the Lincoln Heritage Stakes, beating a tough-trip Love Handles by several lengths.

* There are four dark days in Chicago after Arlington closes Sunday. Racing - dirt racing, at that - resumes on Friday at Hawthorne.