07/23/2002 11:00PM

No shortage of contenders

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Just a few weeks ago they couldn't get enough horses to run at Arlington. Now, there are too many.

An overflow field of 14 was entered Wednesday for Friday's featured eighth race, a high-end allowance designed for horses not quite good enough to run Saturday in the Arlington Handicap. The 12 that made it in are good enough, however, both in terms of quality and bettability.

Everywhere you turn in this race there's a viable contender.

Jake the Flake found nine furlongs slightly too far in an allowance try earlier this meet. He's back now after a trip to Mountaineer, where he finished with a flourish and was third in a $79,000 handicap on July 2. At about one mile, the distance of Friday's race may help Jake the Flake finish with more authority than he did in his last start here.

He will have to, since a decent case can be made for no fewer than six other horses.

Minor Wisdom was right there in the Cardinal Handicap, a statebred stakes June 22, but came up just short in the stretch to finish fourth in a good field. His connections must be hoping the dry weather here holds. There has been little rain in this area the last several weeks, turning the turf course dry and hard - just the way Minor Wisdom likes it.

Royal Spy could do no wrong last summer at Lone Star Park, where he won two turf stakes by a combined 16 1/2 lengths. He has struggled in five races since then, but an eighth-place finish July 7 at Churchill came in a race Royal Spy probably needed after a lengthy layoff.

Dernier Croise and Astrologist were one-two in a May 16 Churchill allowance, then went in opposite directions. Dernier Croise tried the Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders' Cup and finished eighth, while Astrologist ran in another allowance race and scored an impressive 1 3/4-length win. Astrologist is the speed of Friday's race, and his chances depend heavily on who wants to run with him in the early going.

Finally, there is Al's Dearly Bred, winner of the Emerald Stakes on the Claiming Crown program last summer. Off from October until June, Al's Dearly Bred has been awesome in two starts this summer. He overmatched a Canterbury allowance group June 9, but then beat the stakes winner Promise of War - who also runs Friday - by more than seven lengths in a $40,000 stakes race.

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