06/06/2007 12:00AM

Longer stretch suits Mr. Soul


CHICAGO - If a short stretch and a long stride are incompatible, there's good reason to like Mr. Soul in the co-featured ninth race Friday at Arlington Park.

Race 9 is for 3-year-old entry-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers, and its 1 1/8-mile distance provides a prime justification for backing Mr. Soul. Co-featured on the 10-race card is the sixth, for female third-level turf allowance horses.

Mr. Soul may turn out to be a pretty useful horse, but he appears long-winded and lacking in push-button acceleration, at least at this point in his career. He managed to finish second at six furlongs in his first two starts - one last summer at Arlington, the next in February at Oaklawn - but won well on March 8 in his first try over a route of ground.

Since a third-place finish behind the solid colt Moyer's Pond in a 1o1/16-mile Oaklawn Park allowance race, Mr. Soul has started in a one-mile stakes at Oaklawn and a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Arlington, finishing sixth and fourth, respectively. What those two races have in common is a finish at the sixteenth pole, and the last thing Mr. Soul needs is a short stretch with which to work. When Hugh Robertson, Mr. Soul's trainer, circled Friday's spot as his horse's goal a couple of weeks ago, the 1o1/8-mile distance and its use of the entire Arlington stretch were foremost in his mind.

Two others in the race, Galloping Home and Rector, finished in front of Mr. Soul last out at Arlington in a race won by Time Squared, who had been considered for the Belmont Stakes. Also worthy of consideration is El Indy, who moved far forward winning a maiden race last time out in his Polytrack debut.

Mike Stidham trains El Indy, and he also trains Royal Leah, who has a good chance to win race 6. Royal Leah performed well on the Arlington course last summer, and her tactical speed could give her first run on closing contenders like Sobresaliente and Bridal Path.

Polytrack revives 11-year-old Intern

In late fall, as trainer Jim McMullen readied to ship to winter quarters at Fair Grounds, one of his owners, a cab driver named Omar Razvi, decided to sell his handful of racehorses. Among them was the 10-year-old Intern, whom McMullen bought on the spur of the moment and took to New Orleans.

"I didn't think about it that much," McMullen said of the purchase. "It happened kind of all of a sudden. The horse had been completely sound for me. He always liked going to the track."

In any case, McMullen has overseen one of the noteworthy turnarounds in the earliest phase of Arlington's Polytrack era - ranking right there with Cane Garden Boy's transition from struggling $5,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer to a winner of three straight Polytrack races, most recently an Illinois-bred allowance.

Intern, an 11-year-old, has had year-plus layoffs twice in a career that began in 1999 and includes a win in the 2001 Sea O' Erin Handicap on the Arlington turf course. Intern's big slide began in 2004, when he went from a $50,000 claimer to a $10,000 claimer in the space of two starts. Intern lost 12 races in a row and all 10 of his starts last year, and was on a 1-for-25 streak before McMullen coaxed a victory from him Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds. That was just the beginning.

At Keeneland, Intern finished sixth in a $10,000 claimer, his Polytrack debut, but showed surprisingly good speed. McMullen said jockey Robby Albarado, aboard Intern five times in a row, came back and told him, "That was the best he's felt since I've ridden him."

So, May 11 at Arlington, there was 11-year-old Intern slipping through a seam along the rail and finishing up well to win a $5,000 claimer by a neck. Back in action May 31, Intern won at the same class by almost eight lengths, running fast enough to have won for at least twice the claiming price. A Beyer Speed Figure of 77 for the win marked Intern's top figure in almost two years.

Asked if cushiony Polytrack had given comfort to Intern's aging body, McMullen concurred: "I think that's fair to say."

And now that he's found a racing surface that lets his legs do what his mind and heart have been futilely asking the last couple of years, Intern figures to start a belated climb back up the class ladder.

Coach Jimi Lee skips Belmont trip

Jim DiVito, co-owner and trainer of one of Chicago's best sprinters, Coach Jimi Lee, had a flight lined up to transport The Coach to Belmont for Saturday's True North Handicap. Instead, Divito could have used an iconic line from "Seinfeld" episode 96: "I choose not to run."

What DiVito actually said was, "We're going to pass the race," which also got the point across. The concern, DiVito said, was that the True North fell too close to Coach Jimi Lee's 2007 debut, a hard-fought victory May 19 in the Waterford Park Handicap at Mountaineer Park.

DiVito said the June 30 Iowa Sprint Handicap - a race Coach Jimi Lee has won three years in a row - was "probably the most logical place for me," but he hasn't yet committed Coach Jimi Lee to a particular race.