07/09/2003 11:00PM

Perfect Drift and Phantom Light shipping in


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With just 15 nominations, next Saturday's Washington Park Handicap seems fated to have a short field, and as of Thursday, Arlington racing officials were forecasting no more than six or seven horses for the race. But they are coming from all corners.

The star is Perfect Drift, who upset the mighty Mineshaft last month in the Stephen Foster Handicap, a win that makes him the hunted instead of the hunter in the $400,000 Washington Park.

From Canada comes Phantom Light, a gate-to-wire winner of the Dominion Day at Woodbine in his last start. Owned by Stronach Stable and trained by Danny Vella, Phantom Light has won three of five starts this year and brings speed to the race.

Scheduled to fly Monday from Florida is Aeneas, who was beaten 25 lengths in the Pimlico Special in his last start, but ran second to Hero's Tribute March 29 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

"The Pimlico track was a sea of slop, and he never got a hold of it," trainer Marty Wolfson said by phone on Thursday.

Aeneas began his career with trainer John Ward; Wolfson took over last November. Aeneas had been kept to sprints most of his 3-year-old season, but Wolfson saw a route horse. Aeneas won nine- and 10-furlong allowance races at Calder this winter before moving into stakes.

"In the Gulfstream Park Handicap he far outran what I expected," Wolfson said. "He was an extremely wired horse at first, but he's settled down. Shipping him is a concern. He likes to be settled in a place where he's comfortable. I'm hoping that he's matured and he'll be able to handle it."

Battle Tank to experiment on turf

Spend a couple weeks hanging around a backstretch and you'll hear all kinds of lore. Take turf horses. Some people point to dish-shaped feet as a key to grass affinity. Others will watch a horse's action on dirt and suggest a move from dirt to turf. And still others take a more skeptical approach.

"You really don't know till you try them on it," said trainer Dennis Ebert. "I've had good turf horses with big feet, small feet, bad action on the dirt, good action on it."

Ebert has a first-time turfer Saturday in Arlington's feature. His horse, Battle Tank, runs in a second-level, one-mile grass allowance restricted to 3-year-olds. And Ebert's the first to say he doesn't know what to expect.

"I do believe pedigree is important, and he doesn't have much turf on the bottom side of his," Ebert said.

In fact, Battle Tank is in the race because of the age restriction. Battle Tank tried older horses two starts ago and did nothing, and Ebert is determined to keep him with his age group for now. And with rain continually hammering the Chicago area, a switch to a one-turn mile on dirt is a strong possibility. "That would be fine with me," Ebert said.

Battle Tank has the quality to be a factor in this spot, if he handles the surface switch. The most proven grass runner in the seven-horse field is Mr. Mississippi, a closer who should have a strong pace to run at.

War Emblem's sister also tries turf

There is an even more noteworthy first-time turf horse on Saturday's program, My Sweet Heart, the 3-year-old younger sister of War Emblem.

My Sweet Heart has raced twice, winning her maiden in a statebred race and then finishing fifth June 21 in the $86,000 Purple Violet for Illinois-breds. My Sweet Heart's effort in the stakes was better than her placing. My Sweet Heart simply was too aggressive early in the one-mile race after trainer Bobby Springer had added blinkers.

"We had worked her in blinkers to get her into the bit, and she just got a little too strong last time," Springer said. "Now, we're trying to get her to relax."

Off comes the hood Saturday, too, and if My Sweet Heart's race stays on grass, she'll be making her first start around two turns.

"Her mother loved turf," Springer said. "And who knows if the race will even stay on grass. Dirt would be fine, too. She's coming along fine right now. There are no problems with her physically or mentally."