08/26/2001 11:00PM

Marathon on grass a novel experience

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Welcome to monsoon season. After a fairly dry summer, Chicago has been soaked with storm after storm during the last 10 days, conditions that have wreaked havoc with Arlington's turf racing schedule. Only once in the last six racing days has the turf course been in decent enough shape for racing, and with rain in the local forecast Monday, another washout is possible Wednesday, when two grass races are carded.

One of them, the eighth, an entry-level allowance, will serve as the day's feature, if only nominally. As with many late-summer races at the first allowance level, this contest has come up on the soft side, though its appeal to handicappers is heightened by a rarely run marathon distance of 12 furlongs. Who among the nine entrants will stay that long trip is a mystery, since none of the horses has ever run as far.

In such instances, horsemen rely on their experience, knowledge of pedigree, and feedback from exercise riders and jockeys to determine which animals are likely to adapt to a marathon. "He's training well and he's bred to go that far," trainer Mike Stidham said of Zamek, who should be favored in the race.

Zamek, a 4-year-old Majestic Light gelding owned by James McAllister, has never raced farther than 1 1/16 miles, but Stidham, an 18-percent turf trainer, is a good judge of stamina. Earlier this year, he saddled the colt Esperence to a 12-furlong turf allowance win at Keeneland, even though Esperence was running above his allowance conditions at the time.

Zamek, second at this class level in his last start, clearly fits in the spot, having twice finished second in this allowance condition after winning his maiden by more than five lengths this spring at Lone Star. Zamek should race closer than usual to the pace at this extended distance and gets a rider switch to Robby Albarado.

The main challenges will come from Easy Runaway and Keytothepenthouse, both of whom have won over the Arlington turf course. Easy Runaway missed more than 10 months of racing between last September and June, but is coming back into form for the Louis Roussel barn, which is having a strong Arlington meet. Easy Runaway finished only a half-length behind Zamek here on Aug. 11 after taking the lead at the stretch call. Meanwhile, Keytothepenthouse moved up several lengths with a switch to turf racing this year, and comes off a solid third-place finish in a starter allowance race. He is by Pentelicus, generally a sprint sire, but, strangely enough, one who also can get a turf stayer on occasion.

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