09/07/2001 12:00AM

Lots of bang for the buck

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It is kind of like the London Philharmonic showing up to play your Fourth of July picnic. For a mere $45,000, a field filled with graded stakes-winning and placed fillies and mares popped up in the Mariah's Storm Handicap at Arlington Sunday.

Several will use the Mariah's Storm as a prep for the Grade 3 Arlington Matron here Oct. 5, the most important dirt race of the meet for older fillies and mares. Like the Matron, the Mariah's Storm is run over nine furlongs.

The Mariah's Storm is the first start in a comeback by the 3-year-old filly Lakenheath, who won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds this spring and finished fifth in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes when she last raced in April. Owned by Jim Tafel and trained by Gene Cilio, Lakenheath enters the Mariah's Storm off a series of good-looking, stamina-based drills over the Arlington surface.

But she has found a tough return spot and faces older horses for the first time. Among them are the 117-pound highweights Rodeo Fan and Frankly My Dear, who with Applesolutey ran one-two-three in an Aug. 12 allowance race here. Stakes winner Frankly My Dear, owned by Greg Goodman's Mt. Brilliant Stable and trained by Mike Stidham, might have been best that day, but after turning back a strong challenge from Applesolutely on the far turn and in early stretch, Frankly My Dear had to deal with Rodeo Fan. Frankly My Dear dug in again, but it was too late - Rodeo Fan had the momentum and won by a neck.

"Frankly My Dear's got some class," Stidham said.

She also has the best early speed in the race, but Stidham deemed the nine-furlong distance "a question mark" for his filly.

Applesolutely, owned by Dick Duchossois, remains a mystery to trainer Chris Block, who doesn't think she has realized her full potential. In her last start, her first race on dirt, she whistled up to Frankly My Dear's flank, but was outrun to the wire. This behavior - Block thinks she loses her focus - has become a habit.

"I can't come up with a reason for her stopping," Block said. "It's not breathing, it's not soundness, so it has to be a concentration problem."

So for the first time, Applesolutely on Sunday will don a set of blinkers, fashioned by Block himself.

Rodeo Fan is a threat to win again, as is the graded stakes winner Humble Clerk, who did not run well in her last start, the Grade 3 Delaware Handicap. Humble Clerk, owned by Gary Tanaka and trained by Niall O'Callaghan, won an allowance race by more than five lengths when she last raced at Arlington.

Completing the field are Adam's Time, Lorraine, Taste the Passion, and Twilight Aurora.

St. Julien has reason to smile

No wonder jockey Marlon St. Julien got off to a slow start at Arlington when he shifted his tack here in midsummer. St. Julien was coming off a miserable meet at Churchill Downs, where he won only three races in more than two months.

"It seemed like it was in the Form and stuff every week about me being in a slump," St. Julien said. "I think at the beginning of the meet here, people knew I could ride, but they wanted to make sure I still had the eye of the tiger."

Apparently he does, and now he has a twinkle in his eyes, too. St. Julien doesn't hide his joy after he wins a race, and his smile has been appearing with ever more regularity in the Arlington winner's circle. Through Thursday, he had won

26 races from 233 mounts here, while being represented by a new agent, Harry Hacek, who took St. Julien's book when the jockey came to Chicago.

"Everybody knows Harry," St. Julien said. "He's doing a very good job."

St. Julien, who is 29, said he never lost his confidence when things were at their worst. "It you do lose it completely, it can make the slump go on longer and longer," he said. "But it's hard. People start to second-guess you even if you have a bad week or two.

"That slump probably made me be a better rider and a better person, though. I got established on bigger circuits like Kentucky so fast. Maybe I got a little lazy and wasn't working as hard. Now, I'm tickled to death just to be getting on good horses."

St. Julien said he plans to stay at Arlington for the remainder of the meet, then go to Churchill in November, but wasn't certain where he would ride this winter.