05/29/2004 12:00AM

'Perry' threat on turf, dirt


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - They card a turf race at Arlington and horsemen squint suspiciously: "Teasing us again?"

It was wet (as usual) Saturday, but racing officials were trying to keep scheduled grass races from being moved to dirt. There sits Arlington's signature turf course, wide, lush and inviting - and surprisingly difficult to get onto. Saturday was the 12th day of the meet, and already there have been seven rain-offs.

The Memorial Day feature, the $40,000 Mister Gus Stakes, is supposed to be at a mile on turf. Yes, it is supposed to rain.

"Who knows what's going to happen with the weather like this," said trainer Greg Geier, who entered Holy Conflict and Act of War in the Mister Gus.

Holy Conflict is not running if the race comes off turf. "He doesn't even like to train on dirt," Geier said.

Act of War, Geier figures, will have to stay in the race regardless of surface, since stewards will point to his proven dirt form and insist he run. But Geier believes that Act of War, at this point in his career, needs more ground than the one-turn mile he'll get if Monday's feature is switched to dirt. "He likes the mud, though," Geier said.

A horse to consider on either surface is Ivan Jay Perry, 8 years old and in peak form. Ivan Jay Perry is by Zen, perennial leading sire in Illinois back in the 80's and 90's. But this gelding has held his form admirably under the care of trainer Harvey Vanier and his son-in-law and top assistant, Brian Williamson. Ivan Jay Perry came from last to finish second here May 16 in a high-end optional claimer of similar quality to the Mister Gus, and there is every reason to believe he can repeat the performance.

Ivan Jay Perry can run on dirt, too, but like Act of War, there is the question of a one-turn mile, a race somewhere between a sprint and a route. Aging horses like Ivan Jay Perry and Act of War, a 6-year-old, might have once had the gas to adapt to speedy middle-distance races, but perhaps not now. The horse for a one-turn mile might be Gigawatt, who is still eligible for a third-level allowance, but has speed, an inside post, and good current form.

* Apprentice rider Timothy Thornton, sidelined since the end of the Hawthorne meet with an injured wrist, returned to action this weekend, buttressing an already strong apprentice contingent here. Cruz Contreras has been on or near the lead in the rider standings since opening day, and James Graham rode three winners Friday.