05/19/2003 12:00AM

My Sweet Heart has pedigree, potential

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CHICAGO - Another War Emblem she is not - at least not yet - but My Sweet Heart shares plenty of DNA with her famous older brother, and Friday at Arlington she began her career on a sweet note.

My Sweet Heart faced only Illinois-bred maidens, but there were 12 of them, and she was asked to race one mile with no prior experience. Her half-length victory wasn't dominant, but the 3-year-old My Sweet Heart is just now getting the hang of things.

"She got a lot better than she was last year," said jockey Zoe Cadman, who had exercised My Sweet Heart long before she raced. "She really still doesn't know what to do, but I think she's going to figure it out."

My Sweet Heart is owned by Russell Reineman and trained by Frank "Bobby" Springer, the connections that campaigned War Emblem before his sale to The Thoroughbred Corp. last April. A race after sale, War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby.

Sweetest Lady, the dam of these siblings, has died, and My Sweet Heart is by You and I, making her a half-brother to War Emblem. Another difference between them is that Reineman has no plans to sell this horse.

"We turned down a lot before we raced her," Springer said. "She's not for sale. Mr. Reineman wants to breed her."

Springer said he had My Sweet Heart with him at Arlington as long as a year ago, but "she was immature and fine-boned, so we let her go along at her pace. She started getting serious [in late March]. We put a little set of blinkers on her, and she got more serious."

Springer's fine horsemanship includes a healthy portion of patience. Getting My Sweet Heart to the races was the first step. Now, Springer will encourage her talent to flower.

When the time was ripe, Springer hastened War Emblem's transformation from a struggling colt to a romping winner of the Illinois Derby. So, when he suggests My Sweet Heart will "improve off her race," it's worth paying attention.

Mitchell barn going strong

Natural Image won the sixth race here Friday, which was no surprise, since Tony Mitchell trains her.

Natural Image was Mitchell's second starter and second winner at this meet. Mitchell began a hot streak when Hawthorne opened March 1 and it hardly abated all spring. Even after Sir Rascal's last-place finish a race after Natural Image's win, Mitchell had won seven races with only 14 starters in 2003.

Mitchell began training for owner-breeder Richard Otto a couple years ago, and because Otto breeds and races Illinois-breds with Kentucky-style pedigrees, Mitchell has plenty of raw material.

He is making the most of it.

"I'm riding the crest of the wave as long as I can and as high as I can," Mitchell said. "I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm having a ball. You know how these things go in streaks."

Mitchell changed his feed program over the winter, and so far this season his horses have run with extra zip. "Last year, they kind of weren't finishing as much," he said. "Now, they're always finishing more in their breezes."

Natural Image, an Illinois-bred 3-year-old filly, won for the second time in three starts, and may be headed into stakes races. But Mitchell and Otto already have the best statebred 3-year-old filly in training, Julie's Prize, who will run next in the Purple Violet Stakes after an impressive overnight handicap win here opening week.

For Julie's Prize's 4-year-old sister, Summer Mis, Mitchell has penciled in the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap June 16.

Pass the Pepper wins easily

Pass the Pepper passed her latest test - a fourth-level allowance race Friday at Arlington - and could be capable of a return to stakes company.

Bouncing back from the only bad loss of her career, Pass the Pepper scored an easy five-length win, and her time of 1:10.15 for six furlongs earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

Pass the Pepper now has won five of eight starts, and besides the March 29 Lady Hallie at Hawthorne, has done little wrong. Pass the Pepper, a sprinter by trade, lost the 1 1/16-mile Lady Hallie by 32 lengths after dueling for the early lead.

"I thought she could make an easy lead and relax," trainer Michelle Boyce said. "Somebody else had the same idea."

Boyce will consider nominating Pass the Pepper to the Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap, though she fears overmatching her filly, who has never won a stakes race. Another spot could be the Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows.

Distinction yet to live up to billing

Pickings are lean on Arlington's Wednesday program, where only 63 horses were entered for nine races. There are two allowance races - the eighth is an entry-level race and the ninth is a second-level allowance.

Among the seven horses entered in the eighth race is Distinction, the $4.2 million yearling purchase who has won only once in 12 starts. Owned by the Fog City Stable and trained by Wayne Lukas, Distinction has generally faced better horses than he meets Wednesday, and a bad trip contributed to his poor showing May 2 at Churchill Downs. Distinction is one of several contenders, though Without a Doubt seems like the horse to beat.

The ninth race is equally tricky, but Tricky Truth looks primed for a good showing as she returns from a freshening.