05/12/2004 11:00PM

Pace suits Smoke Chaser more than Summer Mis


CHICAGO - You go into the trainer Tony Mitchell's barn at Arlington Park. There is his office, and as close to the office as she could get, there is Summer Mis.

They call her Princess around the barn, especially Mitchell. And why not? Before Summer Mis, Mitchell still was processing the switch from farm to racetrack life. Three years later, he has 20-some horses at Arlington - many of them 2-year-olds with potential - and a firm foothold in the business. Along the way, Summer Mis, now 5, has racked up more than $472,000 in earnings for her owner and breeder, Richard Otto, and she was named Illinois horse of the year in 2003.

Funny, then, that she runs for a $40,000 purse on Saturday at Arlington in one of the toughest spots she has ever found. Summer Mis won the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes last fall at Keeneland, but the best horses in Saturday's six-furlong Fit for a Queen Stakes are not far off that level. At the top of the contender list sit Tina Bull and Smoke Chaser, both fresh from impressive allowance victories.

Summer Mis has made 18 starts and won 10 of them, including six of her last seven, her win streak broken only by a third to males in her first start of 2004. But there is more than stiff opposition to overcome Saturday. Pass the Pepper, a very fast horse out of the gate, has post 1, and is likely to go for the lead. Several will join her, and if Summer Mis takes up her typical position on or just off the pace, she will be running very fast.

Tina Bull has proven a touch more willing to rate than Summer Mis, and that is to her benefit in this spot. Trained by Steve Asmussen, and ridden by Arlington newcomer Jose Martinez Jr., Tina Bull will compete with Summer Mis for favoritism.

Smoke Chaser, never worse than third in 10 Arlington starts, smoked a Hawthorne allowance race April 23, winning her first start of the season, and first for trainer Dale Bennett, who feels Smoke Chaser won't bounce Saturday.

"She's had three weeks, and she won easily," Bennett said. "She came out of it real good. I gave her a couple nice open gallops, and she worked real nice. She's a big filly, and she's hard on herself. Once she's fit - and she's fit now - we just try to keep her happy."

A victory at odds of something like 9-2 would keep her backers happy, and Smoke Chaser, drawn outside the other speed horses, will be in good position to stalk, pounce, and win.