06/20/2001 11:00PM

Rain or shine, Chicago Six on the fence


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Abe Lincoln look-alike and the medieval jousters sparring at the sixteenth pole aside, it is the six stakes for Illinois-bred racehorses that form the backbone of Saturday's Prairie State Festival at Arlington Park. There is nothing sideshow-like about $450,000 in purse money and the six stakes, each worth $75,000, feature large, competitive, and bettable fields.

The Prairie State races, the fourth through the ninth, fall into three categories, with a race in each for females and males; there are two dirt sprints, two turf routes, and two one-mile dirt races for 3-year-olds. The Cardinal Handicap, race eight, brings out the most compelling field, a deep contingent of 13 older horses racing 1 1/16 miles over Arlington's sweeping oval of rich green grass.

Chicago Six, the 2000 Illinois champion older horse, was entered in the Cardinal by owner Richard Trebat and trainer J.R. Smith Sr., but whether the horse starts remains to be seen, and Smith said the decision could be a last-minute one.

Smith's reservations concern racing surface, since he feels Chicago Six performs better on dirt than turf. Chicago Six finished sixth in last year's Cardinal, which was run on yielding turf. But Smith can't hope for rain that might move the race to the main track. "He doesn't like mud either," he said.

Reno Rumble, second to Minor Wisdom last year, will start again for trainer Chris Block and owner Team Block, but Block wondered aloud Thursday morning if the 7-year-old was ready for his best race.

Block said Reno Rumble, fifth in open company last month at Hawthorne, had given him a better feeling going into last year's race.

"He's gotten a little too smart in his training," said Block, suggesting that the veteran Reno Rumble wasn't putting out a concentrated effort in his morning exercise. "As long as he remembers what to do in a race - and he does know what to do - I guess I don't really care."

Reno Rumble can afford nothing less than his best. Besides Chicago Six, there are perhaps six other serious win threats, including the venerable Treat Me Doc, who has come back into form this spring, and Just Like Prime, who was excluded from this race last year when he was accidentally excluded from the race by the racing office.

Treat Me Doc, trained by Gene Brajczewski, finished a closing second to the good turf horse Where's Taylor in the Sun Beau Stakes at Hawthorne when he last ran. Just Like Prime won a Hawthorne allowance race by three lengths with a big stretch run under apprentice Zoe Cadman. "If you can get the horse back to last, he'll make that run," said trainer Doug Matthews.

Minor Wisdom, the race's defending champion, will miss the Cardinal. Though the horse worked well on turf here Wednesday, Minor Wisdom trained on a Kentucky farm much of the spring and trainer Richie Scherer feared his fitness level wasn't yet sufficient for competition.