06/23/2004 11:00PM

Mystery Giver's participation an enigma


CHICAGO - The trainer Richie Scherer has a horse to run in the Cardinal Handicap. A few months ago, he had the horse.

During winters, Scherer trains . Out of the blue three years ago, fellow horseman Chris Block asked Scherer to take Mystery Giver to New Orleans while Block stayed home in Chicago. This year, Scherer hit pay dirt. Mystery Giver won the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz, which, at $500,000, is one of the richest races at Fair Grounds.

During summers, Scherer watches. Block's family bred and owns Mystery Giver, and Block takes over Mystery Giver's training each spring.

"I've seen him up there at the track, but I haven't really seen him train," Scherer said. "It looks like he's doing well. If he runs Saturday, everyone is running for second money."

Not Scherer, who will scratch Minor Wisdom from the Cardinal if Mystery Giver stays in the race. That decision will be made Saturday morning. Block and his family, displeased with the 127 pounds Mystery Giver was assigned for the Cardinal, are contemplating passing the Cardinal.

Hopefully, Mystery Giver runs. Saturday's Prairie State Festival already is missing 2003 Illinois horse of the year Summer Mis, who was not entered in the Isaac Murphy Handicap because her trainer, Tony Mitchell, was unhappy with her high weight assignment.

Mystery Giver, third in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill the last time he raced, is the most nationally recognizable name among six statebred stakes races, each with a $75,000-added purse. But a lack of recognizable names has nothing to do with high-quality, competitive racing, which is what this program offers.

Even Mystery Giver will actually have to run to collect his trophy from the Cardinal, a 1 1/16-mile grass race. He won the race in 2002, but last season, at odds of 4-5, he finished second and was disqualified to ninth for coming over at the start.

"That day was a complete disaster," said Block.

First, Mystery Giver's saddle was loaded with the wrong weight, a mistake that was discovered as Mystery Giver walked out for the post parade. Mystery Giver returned to the paddock to have weight removed and then came in at the start of the Cardinal, bothering several horses. He ran flat and finished second, beaten by Act of War, who is his main rival again this year.

But Mystery Giver, now 6, matured late, and is a stronger, more consistent racehorse this season. The "Ill." signifying the state where he was born lets him into restricted stakes like the Cardinal, but on the right day and with the right trip, Mystery Giver can hang with any turf horse around.

Scherer has seen that from inside and out.