04/29/2004 11:00PM

Long time since he felt grass Intern runs for $100K tag


STICKNEY, Ill. - The horse was enjoying his oats, but he wanted more. Seated on a tack box just outside Intern's stall, Lara Van Deren had the audacity to rustle the plastic wrapper of a Starlight mint. Intern's head craned out of his feed tub, seeking a treat.

This one was not for him. "Come on," Van Deren scolded. "You get about a hundred of these a day."

Hopefully, they have fortified him. Intern makes his first start of the season on Sunday at Hawthorne, as part of an excellent group of horses entered in a 1 1/16-mile grass race. The high-end allowance feature also is open to $100,000 claimers, and four - including Intern - were entered for the tag.

Van Deren's name might be unfamiliar, but she has worked closely with trainer Louie Roussel for several years, and for now, Roussel's horses are running in her name. They know her well. Van Deren, very hands on, spends much of the morning galloping and breezing the stock. Intern knew he might not get his mint this time, but there would be other chances.

Sunday, Intern has his first chance on turf since September 2001, when he won the Sea o'Erin Breeders' Cup at Arlington, perhaps the biggest win of his career, but a costly one. Intern was injured in the race, and didn't start again for more than a year. But that is typical for Roussel, who gives horses as much time as they need. Intern came back in good shape, and ended his 2003 season with a victory over the dirt track here.

Dirt is where Apt to Be, a top contender Sunday, will do his best running, but lacking a better spot, trainer Chris Block entered Apt to Be in this race. Apt to Be has run well on grass, but has gone winless in six turf starts.

Great Bloom deserves to be favored. Trained by Leo Gabriel, Great Bloom wintered at Fair Grounds, where he ran into some of the better turf horses in the country. Finally finding the right spot, Great Bloom won a allowance race March 20 in New Orleans.

Tomillo on a tear

It comes almost every spring in Chicago - the Tom Tomillo stable gets hot, basically making its nut for the whole season. And now is the time for Tomillo, who has clawed his way up to second in the trainer standings at the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet.

The momentum shows no sign of slowing. Friday, Tomillo struck in the first race of the week, giving him 18 winners, three fewer than leading trainer Pat Cuccurullo. And yet there is wistfulness to the run in Tomillo's stable, where Lalo Rodriguez (20 years of service) and Joseph Felks (five years with Tomillo) run the minute-to-minute affairs. From 131 starters, there have been 27 seconds to go with the wins. Turn a few of those into wins, and Tomillo would be on top.

"This would have been a great meet if some of those seconds could have been firsts," Tomillo said. "We could have won five of those. They were beaten about a length total."

Most of Tomillo's stable winters at Fair Grounds. The horses race there, but the idea is to ready them for the Hawthorne assault.

"I run a lot of horses there, but the races tune them up," said Tomillo. "If you can make money here, you can get through the rest of the time. This can get you through the other nine months."

Tomillo himself has been coming around. Heart bypass surgery last season knocked him out, but Tomillo said his health has significantly improved. "I feel great," he said. "I've been getting down to the paddock a lot more often."

The winner's circle, as well.

Allspice bouncing back

When Allspice won the Sixty Sails Handicap here last Saturday, you could practically feel the force of her effort. Allspice held nothing back, and she gutted out a narrow win - and felt it the next few days. It was only Friday that Allspice returned to the track, jogging at Arlington, where trainer Greg Geier has shifted the bulk of his stable.

"She was tired a couple days, but she's fine how," said Geier. "She laid down and was quiet a couple days. Everything she had, she gave that day."

The Grade 3 Sixty Sails was the first graded stakes victory for both Allspice and Geier. What's up next for Allspice - beyond a Saturday morning gallop - hasn't yet been determined.

Geier said he and Allspice's owner, Jim Tafel, haven't plotted out Allspice's schedule. "We haven't decided where she'll run," Geier said. "There are plenty of options - here, Churchill, the East Coast. We'll see how she trains and go from there."