09/21/2003 11:00PM

Prairie Slam tries a mile and elders

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It's been in the back of Wayne Catalano's head for several months that Prairie Slam might be a nice horse - a really nice horse. How Prairie Slam runs Wednesday at Arlington will go a long way toward determining if Catalano is right.

Prairie Slam was entered in Wednesday's eighth race, one of two second-level allowances on a surprisingly strong card. The nine-race program kicks off Arlington's closing week, as Chicago racing shifts to Hawthorne on Sunday.

Prairie Slam has eight opponents in a one-mile dirt race, and unlike the horses he beat in his last start they aren't all 3-year-olds.

"It's a pretty tough spot," said Catalano, who trains Prairie Slam for owner Frank Calabrese. "You're going from 3-year-olds to 3 and up, and you're going from a sprint to a mile. Now, I don't think the mile is going to hurt him, but the 3 and up will be more of a test."

Prairie Slam made his debut in January, finishing fourth in a good Fair Grounds maiden race, but for the next several months he battled physical problems. Catalano got the colt right in mid-summer, and he easily won his comeback race Aug. 16 before returning with another impressive win here Sept. 3. Racing close to a fast pace, Prairie Slam found another gear in the final furlong and won by 1 3/4 lengths, running six furlongs in 1:10.20, a snappy time on an average racetrack.

"He ran a nice race, and everything seems good with him," Catalano said. "I think having those two three-quarters races under his belt - and he came back and worked five-eighths - he should be in good shape."

McKee's Gallery seems like Prairie Slam's most obvious competition, having finished second in a race at this distance and class level in his last start, but he may be substantially better in mud than he is on a fast track. Swept Clean ran an exceptionally fast six furlongs winning a $35,000 claiming race here July 11, but finished a dull third less than two weeks ago in his first start since.

The seventh also is a second-level allowance race, this one for fillies and mares at one mile on turf. Close recent finishes at Saratoga and Belmont should make Float and Sting the favorite, but Spiritual Drift, who has made great strides since switching to turf two months ago, has a license to win this race.