06/27/2004 11:00PM

Mystery Giver is fine, trainer says

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CHICAGO - It is possible he was suffering from a bruised psyche Monday morning, but physically, Mystery Giver appears to have come through Saturday's Cardinal Handicap just fine.

For the second year in a row, Mystery Giver lost as the overwhelming favorite in the Cardinal, one of six statebred races on Arlington's Prairie State Festival. Last season's defeat at 4-5 was surprising enough, but Mystery Giver did have excuses that day. Saturday, with a Grade 2 win and a Grade 1 placing in his two most recent races, Mystery Giver towered over his Illinois-bred competition - on paper. On the racetrack, he suffered a humbling defeat, finishing sixth, as Runaway Victor, a struggling 8-year-old claimer, edged out Colorful Tour for the victory.

Mystery Giver's trainer, Chris Block, scratched the horse from the June 12 Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs when he discovered swelling in Mystery Giver's hind ankle. But neither that nor any other ailment apparently contributed to his surprising defeat.

"He's fine," Block said Monday. "The pace was just too slow for him, and he probably was too sharp. He was ready to run two weeks ago, and he was over-ready for this. He was too aggressive."

Indeed, jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. could be seen struggling to keep Mystery Giver back in the Cardinal's early stages. On the backstretch, Mystery Giver pulled Marquez toward the front of the field, and that is where he probably ran himself out. Saddled with 127 pounds, and spotting significant weight to all his rivals, Mystery Giver had little left the final three-sixteenths of a mile.

Block already had two stakes victories going into the Cardinal, having won the Springfield Stakes with Fort Prado and the Lincoln Heritage with Lighthouse Lil.

"I must have had 16,000 people come up and tell me after Lil won, 'The next one's the easy one.' Well, there's never an easy one," Block said. "He needs to have pace in front of him, whether it's Grade 1 horses or Illinois-breds."

Block was succinct about Mystery Giver's immediate future, saying: "He's going to the Arlington Handicap for sure."

That race, a Grade 3 worth $250,000, is on July 24.

Big win for 8-year-old 'Victor'

The rumors are false: Runaway Victor is not being pointed to the Breeder's Cup Turf.

But after watching the Cardinal Handicap on Saturday, the truly improbable begins to look more realistic. For starters, Runaway Victor is 8, his best years seemingly fading in the rear-view mirror. And in his best years, what Runaway Victor did most was finish second. He would finish second with good horses, and he would finish second running against not-so-good horses. His desire simply was to finish second. Once in awhile you could trick the horse. And before Saturday, Runaway Victor had six wins to go with his 21 second-place finishes in 71 starts.

His 72nd race produced his seventh win, and even with more than $300,000 in earnings, Runaway Victor never had won a race like the $75,000-added Cardinal, in which he outgunned the open stakes winner Colorful Tour in the stretch and finished well ahead of the Grade 2 winner Mystery Giver.

Trainer Doug Matthews, deluged with congratulatory calls after the upset, said Monday that Runaway Victor had emerged unscathed from his win. And now it is on to - starter allowance races. Runaway Victor raced and lost for a $4,000 claiming price last winter (Matthews, who had lost him for $25,000 in the fall, claimed him back for owner Jim Kelly), and he now is eligible for bottom-level starter allowance races for the next two calendar years. Matthews will consider the Claiming Crown July 17.

Thornton hurts thumb in spill

Apprentice rider Tim Thornton missed the first few weeks of the Arlington meet with an injured wrist, and after going down in a one-horse spill in Friday's ninth race, Thornton was hurt again. According to Chuck del Preto, Thornton's agent, Thornton injured ligaments in his thumb, though to what extent remained uncertain Monday.

"He's waiting for word from the orthopedist," del Preto said. "He's going to be off for a while."

Del Preto bemoaned the injury's timing. "We lost a lot of business the last time he got hurt, and we were just starting to get it back," he said.

Silver Crown may be sitting pretty

The 3-year-old filly Silver Crown has suffered from inconsistency and bad luck, but she was on her game finishing second in an overnight handicap here June 6, and has landed in a good spot to score her fourth win in Wednesday's featured eighth race.

Silver Crown is one of six fillies and mares entered in a third-level allowance with an optional $62,500 claiming price. The race is at six furlongs, and loaded with sprint speed.

Silver Crown has the speed to stay with any pace, but she also has the outside post, which allows jockey James Graham to weigh his options going into the far turn.