05/29/2003 11:00PM

San Pedro right back for top-rate feature

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CHICAGO - San Pedro failed to finish more races than he won last year, but after that wash of a season, San Pedro finally is coming back around to his stakes-quality form of 2001.

Just how far he has gotten will be more apparent on Sunday, when San Pedro tackles eight rivals in an excellent statebred overnight handicap at Arlington. The seven-furlong race's $40,000 purse doesn't do it justice. Besides San Pedro, there is Classic Appeal, a dazzling winner of both his starts this year and the likely favorite, as well as Out of My Way, Medlin Road, Tic N Tin, and Baker Road - the cream of the older Illinois sprint division.

San Pedro turned in a bang-up race here two weeks ago, rating well behind a fast pace before coming with a powerful outside stretch run. He did everything right - except win. Bright Valour got his nose down one last instant, just as the pair tripped the photo-finish camera, and San Pedro had lost by a nose.

But in defeat San Pedro showed he is really right again for the first time since the winter of 2001, when he beat horses like Valhol in the Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds. Varying problems slowed San Pedro, and in two of his eight races last year he didn't officially make it to the finish. The rocky spell appears to be behind him now, and when trainer Joseph "Spanky" Broussard turns San Pedro around on a short rest like this one, a big race often is brewing.

San Pedro will need one to beat Classic Appeal. Classic Appeal had throat surgery between his 2002 and 2003 campaigns, and unimpaired breathing has produced two standout wins. Classic Appeal's major goal is the White Oak Handicap here later this month, but there is no reason he can't win his prep for the race, even if trainer Richard Hazelton doesn't have him fully wound up this weekend. Classic Appeal was more than seven lengths better than San Pedro when they met April 12 at Hawthorne, but San Pedro's recent improvement should have considerably narrowed that gap.

Cart Dancer a big investment

About 12 feet separate trainer Pat Mitchell's Arlington barn office and the stall housing Cart Dancer. Forgive Mitchell if he doesn't want Cart Dancer far from sight - he already has a couple of years tied up in the colt.

The Illinois-bred Cart Dancer is 4, and it was only last Dec. 4 that he made the races, but after two wins to begin his career - the most recent a seven-length allowance romp May 17 - Cart Dancer is headed for stakes company. Mitchell plans to try him in the $75,000 White Oak Handicap on the Prairie State Festival program here June 21.

It's a big race for Mitchell, who has started only 14 horses this year, though with a win Wednesday he has won 2 of 3 already at Arlington. Mitchell had a nice one named Zip Loose in the mid-1990's, but horses with the promise of Cart Dancer have not graced his shed row since.

Owned by Joan Borcia, Cart Dancer first came to Mitchell as a 2-year-old, but he was nowhere near making the races. "It was immaturity. He was real soft," Mitchell said. "I had him a couple months as a 2-year-old, we banged him up and sent him home. As a 3-year-old I had him ready a few times," but injuries prevented Cart Dancer from starting.

"I was fortunate, because I always thought he had talent, and he did," Mitchell said. "You have to give a lot of credit to the owners, because if we'd pushed him, he'd never made it."