07/15/2004 12:00AM

Rebel also-ran improving

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CHICAGO - Okay, there's no Smarty Jones here, no Rock Hard Ten. Saturday's Round Table Stakes at Arlington has nine horses, and only two of them have so much as set foot in a graded stakes. And that's what the Round Table is: a $100,000 race restricted to 3-year-olds that either are unable to compete in the high echelon, or have not yet gotten the chance.

Moreover, the Round Table offers something increasingly rare in American racing - distance. The race is at nine furlongs on dirt, a distance that can separate true route horses from speedy milers.

"Mile-and-an-eighth races are hard to find," said Donnie Von Hemel, trainer of Cryptograph. "We think that's going to be good for him."

, with Don Pettinger to ride, looks like the Round Table favorite, though he drew poorly, getting post 9.

A Cryptoclearance colt owned by Pin Oak Stable, Cryptograph closed his 2-year-old season with a victory, and began his 3-year-old campaign with a pair of wins. Then came a start in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. Cryptograph finished fourth, but in retrospect it looks as good as his wins. In front of Cryptograph were Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones, Peter Pan winner Purge, and the talented Pro Prado. And 15 days ago in the $250,000 Iowa Derby, Cryptograph was a closing third to Swingforthefences, a talented New York-based colt.

"I think there's still some upside," Von Hemel said. "There are opportunities out there in the South and Midwest to see if he's a graded stakes-type horse."

has done much less than Cryptograph, but he is coming out of a graded stakes race, and his performance in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer at Churchill holds promise. Chippewa Trail, a five-race maiden until his blowout win May 27 at Churchill, finished fifth of 12 in the Northern Dancer, but he broke poorly and raced over an extremely wet track.

"I'm not making excuses, but the one thing that affected his run was the condition of the racetrack," trainer Tony Reinstedler said. "It really wasn't his best track."

Chippewa Trail is by the little-known sire General Royal, but since his grandfathers are A.P. Indy and Quiet American, Chippewa Trail should excel at long distances.

"He's a great big, long-striding horse," said Reinstedler. "I think he's going to be useful down the road."