06/17/2004 12:00AM

Mayo On the Side finds comfort zone

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CHICAGO - There are fillies who do not care for racetrack life. They fret and pace their stall, and do not eat or train as well as they should. And when they race, no matter what their raw talent, the mental strain erodes their edge.

Mayo on the Side was in this camp. At the racetrack she would tie up, a condition in horses like muscle cramps in humans and one that will take a horse out of the game. Then Mayo on the Side was moved from the racetrack to the Skylight Training Center outside Louisville, and here she found a home.

"Ever since we got her off the racetrack, she's loved it," said Ian Wilkes, the assistant to Carl Nafzger, who trains Mayo on the Side for Robert Lothenbach. "The filly's really been consistent up there. We can turn her out every morning - she loves it."

Mayo on the Side is happy - and she shows it. In April, she won the $114,000 Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland. She outdid herself May 1, beating the champion Azeri in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff. On the surface, the win looks something like an upset, but perhaps Mayo on the Side really has become that good. One would like to think Mayo on the Side could validate her quality Saturday in the $175,000 Chicago Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park, but she will be so heavily favored to beat four foes in the Grade 3, seven-furlong race, a win might not prove much.

"Oh, I think we can be first or second in the race," said Dale Bennett, who trains Smoke Chaser, a locally based hope.

But Bennett says he is not expecting to win. Mayo on the Side "looks almost unbeatable if she runs those last two races back," he said.

Smoke Chaser is a nice listed-stakes class filly in her own right, and she showed guts winning an overnight handicap here May 15. Seven furlongs "is probably her limit," Bennett said, but Smoke Chaser could wind up setting an easy pace in a race that lacks speed. Two other horses with pace, Our Josephina and Rich City Girl, have never faced this level of competition. My Trusty Cat is in good form, but she races from behind.

Mayo on the Side showed more speed than usual in the Humana, a further sign of her current sharpness. She has been to Arlington before, easily winning a 1 1/8-mile allowance race last season under Eddie Razo, who rides again Saturday.

In this race, as in her daily life now, Mayo on the Side has little to worry about.