06/10/2004 12:00AM

Rain may rearrange Estrapade


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In Saturday's $75,000 Estrapade Handicap, there are 11 horses - and two camps. In the first, thoughts have turned skyward, pondering the chance of rain. The second group does not care whether the Estrapade remains at 1 1/16 miles on turf, or is transferred to 1 1/8 miles on Arlington Park's main track.

If it was difficult Thursday to come up with the Estrapade winner, it was because nobody knew on which surface it was going to be contested. Thursday's races were sloppy and off turf. Rain was forecast to continue all the way through the weekend.

"I don't know, it looks pretty bad right now," said Dave Kassen, trainer of Hail Hillary. Second here last summer in the Grade 3 Pucker Up, Hail Hillary is a contender if the race stays on turf. But the filly had knee surgery over the winter, and if the Estrapade goes on a wet main track, Hail Hillary stays in the barn.

Opposite Kassen sits trainer Greg Geier, who is eager to see what sort of horse Princess Pelona might be on turf, but will happily run her if the race comes off.

"I wouldn't complain at all," Geier said.

He didn't on May 22, when Princess Pelona was transformed from a role player to an odds-on favorite when an overnight handicap was moved from turf to dirt.

Rain or shine, the Illinois-bred filly Julie's Prize figures in the Estrapade. In her last start, Julie's Prize finished fourth in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails, but a busy spring schedule and a change in tactics might have compromised her in that start.

"Running three times in five weeks didn't help," said trainer Tony Mitchell. "We tried to change her running style to try and beat Bare Necessities. The lesson we learned there was to leave Julie's Prize alone and let her do her thing."

In the Estrapade, expect Julie's Prize to settle in and make one big run, a style that has worked for her before. This time, she has gotten five weeks between starts, and her five-furlong workout in 58.20 seconds here May 29 was especially sharp.

At 117 pounds, Julie's Prize shares high weight in the Estrapade with the Churchill Downs shipper Chance Dance, winner of a high-end grass allowance in her last start. But Chance Dance came to hand last season when she was moved from dirt races onto the grass - and there may be no grass racing this weekend in Chicago.