05/16/2004 11:00PM

Mystery Giver plans his own party


CHICAGO - The rest of the racing world can have its Smarty Party on June 5 at Belmont Park. Chris Block is staying home.

You can't really have a horseracing conversation this week without talking about Smarty Jones, and Block was as blown away as anyone with Smarty Jones's Preakness performance. Put Block in the corner expecting a Triple Crown winner.

He could have been at Belmont to see it happen, since the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard is a race at least somewhat suited to Block's stable star, Mystery Giver.

But on Belmont Day, Block and Mystery Giver will remain in Illinois. On June 12, they'll be back at Churchill Downs - where Mystery Giver finished third May 1 in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic - to run in the $100,000 Opening Verse, a new addition to the Churchill stakes schedule.

"The Manhattan is out," Block said. "We didn't even nominate. We love to run at Arlington Park, in our own backyard. Our goal for the summer right now is the Arlington Handicap [$250,000, July 24], and the best way to get him there is to keep the stress off him right now. Going to New York and back when I don't have to doesn't seem right."

Mystery Giver, who worked a half-mile Sunday at Arlington in 50 seconds, flirted with becoming a top Midwest turf horse the last couple of seasons. He finally has made it at age 6, and Block wants this to last.

Because Mystery Giver is a gelding, and a late-maturing one at that, careful management could give him two or three more years of high-class racing. Conservative by nature, Block is stepping back to take a long view instead of chasing a big win right away.

"Yes, I'd like to win a Grade 1 with him, but we'd also like to keep him around as long as we can," said Block.

Herculated's effort a mystery

The horse Mystery Giver beat in the Grade 2 Muniz at Fair Grounds on March 21, Herculated, was a no-show in Saturday's Dixie Handicap on the Preakness undercard. Oh, Herculated started in the Dixie, but he did no running at all, finishing 11th of 12 in a baffling performance.

"My horse went into that race unbelievably good," said Mike Stidham, who trains Herculated. "For him to sit at the back of the pack and never make a run was unbelievable."

Herculated appeared to exit the Dixie in good physical condition, and, casting about for answers, Stidham found only one: the Pimlico turf course was extremely firm, and just as some turf horses hate a sodden course, others dislike hard ground.

"The only thing I can come up with is that the course was like a paved road," Stidham said. "I mean, they set a course record in the race by almost four-fifths [of a second]."

Herculated and Native Annie, who finished fourth Friday in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, have returned to Arlington, and Stidham said Herculated will next race on dirt.

"He's never run bad on dirt, and the time to experiment is after a race like this," he said.

Stidham had a better weekend at Arlington. On Friday's opening day card, Intrinsic Worth won the featured race, an overnight sprint handicap for 3-year-olds, with a spectacular last-to-first run. Off slowly, Intrinsic Worth quickly fell back to last in a six-horse field, losing contact with the other horses on the backstretch. Intrinsic Worth started coming on the far turn, but he still trailed by more than eight lengths at the stretch call.

"I swear, I don't remember the last time I saw anything like that," said Stidham. "They were stopping in front of him, but he made up so much ground so fast. At the eighth pole, I didn't think he could win."

Intrinsic Worth, Stidham said, will be kept to one-turn dirt races for now.

Mississippi Rain off huge win

Persuaggle is the stakes dropper in Arlington's featured eighth race Wednesday, a second-level sprint allowance for Illinois-breds, but he is not the favorite. The horse whom many bettors will expect to win is Mississippi Rain, who scored a blowout victory April 17 at Hawthorne.

The race came less than a half-hour after Ten Most Wanted won the National Jockey Club Handicap, and Mississippi Rain got lost in the Ten Most Wanted's wake. But Beyer Speed Figure folks took notice: For running six furlongs in 1:10.80 over a rather dull racing strip, Mississippi Rain was awarded a 94 Beyer, just about stakes class for an Illinois-bred.

A stakes horse is what Mississippi Rain might turn out to be. Joel Berndt, one of several owners, already trains an Illinois-bred stakes sprinter, Silver Bid, but Mississippi Rain shows the same quality. In his March 5 career debut - long delayed because of nagging physical problems - Mississippi Rain won by more than three lengths over Echota, who came back to win two straight. Mississippi Rain took a surprising loss in his second start, but he was all over statebred first-level allowance horses a month ago.

Mississippi Rain's lone published work since then was an exceptionally quick half-mile breeze May 11 at Arlington, a bullet move timed in 46.60 seconds.

Persuaggle, nearly a stakes winner last fall at age 2, has lost both of his 2004 starts, but with good reason. Persuaggle could have been a race short of his best March 26 at Hawthorne, and had a difficult trip when he finished sixth of 11 on April 10 in the $94,000 Land of Lincoln Stakes.

There are five others in the Wednesday feature, but the exacta might be cold.