05/30/2004 11:00PM

Medina hopes his longshot luck holds in Belmont


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The trainer Angel Medina was standing under a multicolored umbrella in the Arlington paddock on Monday afternoon. He had just put a saddle on a 2-year-old named Tepexpan, and was in the process of explaining the decision to send a colt named Caiman from Chicago to the Belmont Stakes. And as Medina, a native of Venezuela, dodged raindrops and talked, the crazy plan almost took on a semblance of sense.

Medina explained that he has no fear of starting a longshot in a big stakes race. And a longshot Caiman will be. Caiman's form is on the upswing right now, but beating Tio Lupe and Keepitinthebag in recent Hawthorne allowance races will not earn you a lot of support in a matchup with Smarty Jones et al. Medina guessed at his post-time odds: 80-1.

Caiman's owner, Victor Archer, "has had a dream of running in the Triple Crown," said Medina, a native Venezuelan who is spending his first season in Chicago. "He said to me, 'Are you okay with going? I said, 'It's okay with me. You're the boss.' We know it's a very tough race, but you know, nothing good can happen if you stay in the stall."

The stall Caiman occupied Monday morning was in the back of a horse van headed to Belmont Park. And Medina really is okay with that.

"Listen," he said, "you have to understand." In the early 1990's, Medina had a horse named My Luck Runs North, whom he had purchased for a mere $5,000. In the 1992 Lexington Stakes, My Luck Runs North beat Lure, a future two-time Breeders' Cup winner. And Medina goes back farther. He once had a horse named All Sincerity, claimed for $12,500, who beat Creme Fraiche.

"I'm lucky with things like this," Medina said.

Caiman himself was bargain basement purchase, costing only $3,000 as a weanling. He already has earned more than $50,000, and has improved markedly in his last three starts.

"This is the way you test your horse to see how good he is," Medina said.

Bumpy week for Contreras

The apprentice rider Cruz Contreras has made it into June leading the Arlington Park jockey standings. At this point, he is lucky to be riding at all.

Sunday, Contreras went down when a horse came over on him leaving the gate. He bounced up, and on the way back to the jockeys' room told his agent, Tom Morgan, he was good to go for the rest of the day.

There was nothing Contreras could do to avoid a nasty spill here Monday, but his luck still held. Contreras was on the lead in the second race with a horse named Princely Soldier when his mount broke down on the far turn. The horse and Contreras fell immediately. Nipstick and the apprentice James Graham went down over him. Both horses were euthanized, and while Graham was okay, Contreras wound up at the hospital, having X-rays on his shoulder and collarbone. Two hours later, Morgan reported that there were no breaks, and that Contreras's status was day-to-day.

It was a break of the lucky sort for Contreras, who came into Monday's program with 18 wins at the meet, four more than Rene Douglas. Contreras won the Hawthorne riding title, and Morgan said he was "not at all" surprised by the Arlington results.

"The kid's so aggressive," Morgan said. "He doesn't ask for any quarter, and he doesn't give any. He just doesn't have any fear."

Morgan himself is resurgent. Three years ago, Morgan left Chicago suddenly and considered becoming a racing official in Michigan. A series of zigzags later, he wound up representing Contreras, a virtual unknown just a year ago, and guiding him - at least for now - to the top of the local colony.

Hanshin fallout uncertain

Apt to Be was a good second here Saturday in the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap, Wiggins a disappointing fifth, but the two locally based horses are in the same gray area coming out of the race. Neither Chris Block, Apt to Be's trainer, nor Tony Granitz, the trainer of Wiggins, had a strong idea where their charge would next start, though both said their horse had come out of the race in good physical condition.

Apt to Be, making only his second start of the year, made a run at Crafty Shaw, the eventual winner, coming off the far turn, but probably was a race away from his best, and settled for a second. Wiggins had much less luck. The idea had been to take Wiggins back and let him make a late run. But that was everyone's idea in the Hanshin. Wiggins wound up inside on a slow pace and backed out of the race at the quarter pole.

"I was pretty bummed out, but he came back good," Granitz said. "I don't know where we'll go yet."

An Illinois-bred race here June 26 is a possibility, Granitz said.

Block said Apt to Be also was in good condition Monday morning. "We'll kind of wait and see what might come up in the next [condition] book for him," Block said.