05/10/2005 11:00PM

Long time coming

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Miss Terrible, a $1.5 million import, wires the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Miss Terrible began her career in Argentina, and then almost disappeared from the map. But after two and a half tortured years, Miss Terrible has won two straight graded stakes races, showing why she was a champion in her native country, and making a name for her obscure trainer, Bradley Ross.

Her most recent victory came at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby card, when she went wire to wire in the Grade 3 Distaff Turf Mile, winning by a length. That win came a little more than two months after Miss Terrible (pronounced terr-EE-blay) won the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap at six furlongs on dirt at Santa Anita. Sometime in the next few days, Miss Terrible will ship to Arlington, where she will begin preparing for her next start, which has not been determined.

"I'm not going to any racetrack where she can't have her own sandpit," said Ross, perhaps only half-joking. "She'll go out and roll 20 times a day."

The sand-rolling is one of the unorthodox methods being employed by Ross, a longtime blacksmith whose stable consists only of Miss Terrible. Reached by phone at about 8:30 p.m. Churchill time, Ross still was at the racetrack, fooling around with his horse.

"We get her out at least four or five times a day," said Ross. "She loves being out of her stall."

Ross, who owns a small piece of Miss Terrible, trains the mare for primary owners Carol and Chip Hammersmith. Another couple, Pete and Sharon Ferro, has an ownership stake. Hammersmith, who owns a farm in Illinois, has a gravel business, and was one of the original owners of the Empress Casino in Joliet, Ill.

"We were messing around with some old, broken-down things," Ross said of Hammersmith's original investment in racing. "Finally we decided to go get something better."

Miss Terrible was an Argentine superstar. In 2002, at age 3, she won 8 of 9 starts at distances from five furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, racing on turf and dirt, and she won the Argentine filly Triple Crown. It cost $1.5 million to get her.

Steve Leving, a prominent local bloodstock agent and the stable manager for owner Frank Calabrese, was the North American agent for the deal. He, like many who saw Miss Terrible race, was blown away by the filly.

"It was widely thought she might be a better horse than Paseana, Bayakoa, and Riboletta," said Leving, referring to three of the best South American imports ever to run in this country. "She was that good."

Miss Terrible was placed first with trainer Bobby Frankel and ran once for him, finishing fourth in the Gamely Breeders' Cup in May 2003. In August of that year, having been transferred to trainer Wesley Ward, Miss Terrible ran a distant sixth in a Saratoga allowance race, and wasn't heard from for another 18 months.

"She didn't acclimate very well at all," Ross said.

Miss Terrible bled badly in the Saratoga race, and had lost a lot of weight. And then, after Ross had taken over her training, Miss Terrible broke her knee. Retirement was considered this year, but Ross asked for a chance to try racing her once more.

"She and I seem to have a really special connection," Ross said. "It doesn't matter what she's doing, she's a true champion. She's a remarkable horse."

Catalano lands on his feet again

Late in the morning one day this week, Wayne Catalano was holding court in his neat barn office on the Arlington backstretch.

"In 1997 I went down to six horses, run a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and next thing you know I had 56 in the barn," Catalano explained.

The point was this: Catalano has been down before, and come back before. And he has pulled off another rebirth this spring, just in time for the start of Arlington.

Catalano and Chicago's leading owner, Frank Calabrese, are back together again, while Catalano has retained horses for other outside clients. He has put together a 46-horse string for the summer, an amazing recovery after his stable dwindled to some 15 horses during the dead of winter.

"I should run somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 horses during the first [condition] book," said Catalano.

Expect many of them to win. Last summer, Catalano and Calabrese were in the midst of one of their periodic divorces, and the Catalano barn was quiet, but before then Catalano had won two of the last three training titles, and he could contend again this season.

"In the past, we kind of worked with smoke and mirrors," Catalano said. "But we're in a little better shape this time around."

For Calabrese, Catalano will run the talented sprinter Liz on Polk Street in an overnight stakes race here May 21. Injustice, probably the most talented horse in Catalano's barn, will either run next in the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff on May 20, or ship to Lone Star for a try on grass in the WinStar Distaff.

At a glance: Arlington

RACING SCHEDULE: 94 days, Friday though Sept. 18; racing Wednesdays through Sundays, dark Mondays and Tuesdays; racing Monday, May 30; Monday, July 4; and Monday. Sept. 5

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