09/17/2004 12:00AM

Rivals meet in Futurity


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - All this time, and still no one can really define a one-turn mile. Is it an extended sprint? Or is it a shortened route?

It is a question worth asking closing day at Arlington, where two one-turn miles, the Arlington-Washington Lassie, and the Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity, share top billing. The $200,000 Futurity could boil down to Rocky River, a natural sprinter trying to carry his speed a mile, and Three Hour Nap, a long-striding route horse who, his trainer believes, is just getting warmed up after a mile.

There are only four others in the Futurity: Elusive Chris, winner of the Ellis Park Juvenile; Straight Line, the probable pacesetter; the surprisingly good Santana Strings; and Exceptional Ride, no match for Three Hour Nap in an allowance race here three weeks ago.

Rocky River ought to be favored, just as he was in comfortable victories his first two times out. The colt won his career debut July 28 at 4-5, and was a 2-1 favorite when he scored by almost five lengths in the Aug. 29 Spectacular Bid Stakes here. That start, at seven furlongs, was an adventure in rating, as jockey Chris Emigh held hard to Rocky River, keeping him off the early pace. While not completely turned off, Rocky River did as instructed, coming with his run on the far turn and drawing off in the stretch.

"I believe he can get a one-turn mile," said trainer Don Von Hemel. "The second time we ran him, he was more manageable."

Von Hemel is quite high on this horse, and has been since he saw him breeze at a Florida 2-year-old in training sale last spring. Owner Don Peters shelled out $220,000 to buy him, a hefty price for a son of $2,000 sire Concorde's Tune.

Three Hour Nap won his career debut at 5 1/2 furlongs, but only because the horse can really run. This colt, a son of Afternoon Deelites, is no short-sprinter, and improved in his second start when he stretched out in distance.

"One advantage we might have is he's proven he can go the mile," said Hugh Robertson, who trains Three Hour Nap and owns him in partnership with Homewrecker Racing. "I actually wish this was around two turns. My horse I think is a router."

Santana Strings came out of nowhere to score a blowout debut win here July 31. He couldn't keep up with Rocky River in the stretch of the Spectacular Bid, but he and Straight Line, eighth in the Ellis Park Juvenile, should ensure an honest pace. Elusive Chris won a dogfight last out at Ellis Park, and with five starts is the most seasoned of this group.