12/13/2002 12:00AM

Old 'Lanty' learns a new trick

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. - There is no doubt that Sign of Lanty has been one of the top 870-yard runners in Quarter Horse racing history. In 2000 and 2001, he was named Quarter Horse Distance Champion. Most of his $455,542 bankroll was earned at 870 yards.

Now, the 8-year-old Sign of Lanty has a chance to earn a purse worthy of his reputation.

Sunday, Sign of Lanty starts in the $200,000 Marathon National at Los Alamitos, the richest 870-yard race in Quarter Horse history.

The purse for the Marathon was increased by $125,000 this year and trials were needed to narrow the field to eight.

Sign of Lanty set the fastest qualifying time in the Nov. 23 trials, winning the first of two divisions in 45.81 seconds. It was only his second win in 11 starts this year. In July, he won an allowance race at Los Alamitos. In between those wins, Sign of Lanty, battling a foot bruise, lost three stakes.

There is some question of whether he is past his prime as he prepares for his 65th start.

"He's a little older than the other guys and he might have lost a step," trainer John Cooper said.

Regardless, Cooper and owners Jackie and Rod Macpherson were encouraged when Sign of Lanty won his time trial. Ridden by Alex Bautista, who has the mount on Sunday, Sign of Lanty raced from the front, a change from previous races when he stalked the pace.

"When he ran in the trials, he was right there," Cooper said. "He can be on the lead and keep going. Lanty doesn't cough it up. When he won that made me feel good. I wanted to qualify, but I loved the way he ran. He got bumped around in there."

Cooper may also have the biggest danger to Sign of Lanty in Chicks Charger Easy, the winner of the other qualifying trial. A winner of a minor stakes at Los Alamitos in February, Chicks Charger Easy is a closer who won his trial in 45.90 seconds.

Of the other starters, King Rick Rack and Sterling Sport are the most likely winners.

The 5-year-old King Rick Rack was a troubled second behind Sign of Lanty in the trials. Earlier this year, he won six stakes, from 870 to 1,000 yards, racing at Prairie Meadows, Remington Park, and Ruidoso Downs.

Sterling Sport won three consecutive stakes over 870 yards at Los Alamitos in late summer and early fall, beating Sign of Lanty in two of those races.

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