09/06/2004 11:00PM

Salty Sailor gives turf a try

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CHICAGO - Salty Sailor has been riding a wave, reaching peak form early this summer and holding it through the entire Arlington season. He gets one more shot, in Thursday's featured sixth race, before the meet ends and Chicago racing moves on to Hawthorne later this month.

The move makes Thursday is from dirt to turf, a surface on which he has never raced.

"I don't know if he'll like it or not," said trainer Michelle Boyce.

A 4-year-old gelding, Salty Sailor was one of six horses entered in this third-level allowance race with a $62,500 claiming option, a rare Arlington grass sprint, contested at about five furlongs. There's a turf-sprint specialist in the field, a Dale Romans-trained Kentucky shipper named , who is the likely favorite under leading rider Rene Douglas. Justice for Auston has made 19 starts running short on grass, compiling a 6-7-2 record, but because he has lost three in a row as the betting favorite, some might try to beat him.

Salty Sailor raced on a sub-45 second half-mile pace in his last start, a second-place finish in a solid seven-furlong dirt race at this class level. One start before, running under the $62,500 claiming option, Salty Sailor beat a field at this class level that was deeper than the one Thursday. As a horse that is quick from the starting gate, Salty Sailor should take full advantage of the rail this time.

It is somewhat surprising that Salty Sailor has advanced this far in class. He went winless in 2003 and was stuck for months at the entry-level allowance level.

"He's never been a particularly sound horse, but he's sound now," Boyce said. "I'm hoping this isn't just a phenomenon, that he's really become a much better horse."

Salty Sailor is by Salt Lake, whose offspring, in Boyce's experience, "have been very versatile." Salty Sailor's broodmare sire is Alysheba, a disappointment at stud, but a surprisingly strong grass influence. On pedigree, Salty Sailor is a decent prospect to successfully make the transition to grass.

If Justice for Auston and Salty Sailor go too fast, too soon, Elegant Fame, Miner's Gamble, Ajedrez, and even the long layoff horse Character Witness might pass them in the final furlong. , from the Tom Amoss barn, has the most upside among the closers. Last winter, he was beaten just a neck in a turf sprint over the Fair Grounds course.