09/26/2002 11:00PM

Macho Uno a shaky favorite

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CHICAGO - He has teased us with flashes of brilliance. A nose victory over Point Given, winner of the 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A burst of startling acceleration when he won this year's Massachusetts Handicap. But even though Macho Uno has never run a bad race, layoffs and surprising losses have dogged his career, and in two years since the Juvenile he has won graded stakes only twice.

Winning the Breeders' Cup Classic would make up for it all. Fourth in that race last year, Macho Uno takes his final step toward this year's Classic when he meets four opponents Sunday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington. A convincing win could make him one of the favorites for the Classic.

In Sunday's other stakes, the Sea O' Erin at a mile on turf, Capsized could earn a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile with an impressive showing. NBC will televise both races live, starting at 3 p.m. Central.

Since he finished a close fourth in the Aug. 3 Whitney, Macho Uno has followed a convoluted path. Instead of staying in New York with trainer Joe Orseno, Macho Uno went to owner Frank Stronach's farm in Canada and from there shipped to Woodbine for an important workout Sept. 16.

Orseno said Macho Uno "came back blowing more than I expected," but still was shipped to Arlington days later. A five-furlong work here Monday was visually unimpressive, but Macho Uno had shown Orseno enough and was deemed a likely starter in the 1 3/16-mile race.

Consecutive losses in top-class company shouldn't obscure the fact that Macho Uno is the best horse in the Washington Park.

But Macho Uno has lost three of the last five times he was favored, and value-seeking bettors may scurry into the Tenpins camp. Scratched hours before the Sept. 14 Kentucky Cup Classic because of a rules violation involving benign mouthwash, Tenpins's luck was no better here late last summer, when he was taken down on a questionable disqualification. After that, Tenpins reeled off five straight victories before he ran into Street Cry in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster. Now, he comes off a 14-week layoff for trainer Don Winfree.

"I wish this were a mile and a sixteenth," Winfree said. "That'd make me more comfortable."

Tenpins should wind up stalking Pleasant Breeze and Generous Rosi.

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