06/14/2004 11:00PM

Mayo on the Side class standout in Chicago BC

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CHICAGO - Mayo on the Side's people would have hunted another Grade 1 had they been able to get to it. But with no suitable equine transportation for a trip from Kentucky to New York this week, Mayo on the Side will wind up in the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap on Saturday at Arlington, rather than the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont.

Instead of hooking the likes of Azeri and Sightseek, Mayo on the Side figures to be heavily favored to beat such horses as Smoke Chaser, winner of an overnight handicap here in her last start, and a handful of others expected in the Chicago BC, a seven-furlong dirt race.

Asked if Mayo on the Side was a confirmed starter here this weekend, assistant trainer Ian Wilkes said: "We're planning on it. If we could've gotten a plane to New York, we would have gone, but there was no plane."

Mayo on the Side, whom trainer Carl Nafzger stables at the Skylight Training Center outside Louisville, was scratched from the Fleur de Lis Handicap last Saturday at Churchill Downs. Nafzger had planned to start the mare Lead Story in the Fleur de Lis until she suffered a career-ending injury; Mayo on the Side was a last-minute substitute.

"It was a short field, and we entered her to run in case the race fell apart," Wilkes said.

In her most recent race, Mayo on the Side beat Azeri in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, and less than three weeks earlier she had won the listed Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland. No other horse possible for the Chicago BC can boast such a resume. When Mayo on the Side came here last summer, she was 2-1 in a third-level allowance race, which she won by almost nine lengths. On a bigger stage this weekend, her price will be much shorter.

Mystery Giver's ankle looking better

The swollen hind ankle that forced Mystery Giver to miss a start last weekend in the $100,000 Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill is quickly turning into a non-issue. A second set of X-rays, shot Monday morning, revealed no damage to the joint. Taking his cue from his horse, trainer Chris Block sent Mystery Giver out to work five furlongs Tuesday at Arlington. Mystery Giver was timed in 1:01.60, third-fastest among 10 breezes at the distance.

Block said Mystery Giver still has "a little residual" swelling, but his leg looks nothing like it did in the middle of last week, when Block decided not to ship Mystery Giver. Mystery Giver never appeared lame, and the latest set of X-rays has convinced Block that nothing serious is amiss.

For future plans, Block said: "To be honest, I have no idea right now. The main thing is to see that he comes out of this breeze okay. We'll nominate to Illinois Day and see what kind of weight he gets."

Rain looms over turf feature

A mile and one-half was too far for Canaan Land. A mile and one-sixteenth might be too far for Rapid Raj. And in the end, the Chicago weather - nothing but wet the last five weeks - will determine if it matters at all.

At issue is Thursday's featured eighth race, a second-level allowance carded for 1 1/16 miles on turf. Two horses who wintered at Fair Grounds, Canaan Land and Rapid Raj, are among the main contenders, provided the race stays on grass. The course was listed as soft for an overnight stakes race Sunday, and there was more heavy rain here Monday, with another set of storms expected Wednesday. On dirt, a horse named Intelligent Male, an 8 1/2-length mud winner in his last start, becomes a major factor.

Canaan Land's last start, a $35,000 claimer here May 20, yielded a second-place finish, as well as the idea that Canaan Land would have won at a shorter distance. He was racing 1 1/2 miles, and the horse who beat him, Prospect Green, simply seemed to have more left in the final 200 yards.

Rapid Raj, meanwhile, had been idle for a year when he came back in a $5,000 claiming race in late November in New Orleans. Rapid Raj lost that start, but once switched to turf, he won two in a row and was third in two other Fair Grounds grass races. At Hawthorne, he cleared his entry-level allowance condition but was all out to hang on at a mile, and another half-furlong might be beyond his scope.