08/09/2002 12:00AM

See-sawing Miss Pickums on upswing

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CHICAGO - Miss Pickums's see-saw career has swung upward again, and in Sunday's $50,000 Mariah's Storm Handicap she comes off perhaps her best race in two years.

A graded stakes winner at age 2, Miss Pickums banked about $255,000 during her juvenile season, but last year she raced four times, lost four times, and earned about $15,000.

A flash in the pan? Not necessarily. Miss Pickums began to turn things around this winter at Turfway Park, where she won a minor stakes race, and a July 19 allowance win in her first start at Arlington produced the sort of effort expected long ago. Racing close to a fast pace, Miss Pickums took the lead turning for home and finished with authority, drawing off by more than three lengths.

"That was a big race last time out and she's done real well since then," said trainer Paul McGee. "She definitely likes that track. We thought about running her back in the Gardenia at Ellis this weekend, but she seems to like Arlington so much."

Miss Pickums will be asked to transfer her form from a one-turn mile to two turns and 1 1/8 miles Sunday, and her ability to perform as well at the longer trip is not assured. Though she is a logical favorite, distance questions and Miss Pickums's inconsistency lend hope to her six rivals.

Among them is Leslie, who takes a big step up in class from a first-level allowance into an overnight stakes.

But Leslie's last win was exceptional, a seven-length romp that produced a one-mile time - 1:36.05 - about seven lengths faster than Miss Pickums's.

"That race kind of came out of the blue, so we'll see if she runs it back," said her trainer, Mike Stidham. "Whether she can get a mile and an eighth depends on the pace."

Asmussen barn suddenly heats up

With three debut winners here last week, and with five wins in six days, trainer Steve Asmussen officially is out of his Arlington funk.

Asmussen's win rate here still is lower than normal for him, but since Asmussen leads the country in races won, "normal" is a relative term.

Asmussen has accumulated almost 240 wins this year, in great part because he can enter horses at all levels, from graded stakes to maiden claimers. In fact, his three debut winners here all came at different class levels, one in a $32,000 maiden claimer, on for $50,000, and one in a maiden special weight race.

That maiden special winner, a filly named Souris, easily beat the well-regarded Caucus, and Asmussen said she'll be given a chance in the $75,000 Top Flight Stakes here Aug. 31.

Sprint unlikely for Bet on Sunshine

McGee said Bet on Sunshine was scheduled to work Saturday for the first time since he finished third two weeks ago in the Don Bernhardt at Ellis Park.

McGee said Bet on Sunshine "is doing real good," but termed a start in the Aug. 24 Arlington Sprint unlikely.

"I'll nominate him and I'm not going to rule it out, but probably not," he said. "I'll probably look for an allowance race up there."