07/20/2004 11:00PM

Shaconage carrying the team

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Mitch Shirota has won only three races this season. He is doing just fine, thank you.

There are seven horses in the Shirota barn, and one of them is named Shaconage. On Derby Day, she upset the Grade 3 Argent Mortgage at odds of 19-1. Last month, that win began to look less surprising when Shaconage scored a comfortable 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Locust Grove. Already this year Shaconage has earned

almost $190,000 for Shirota and owner Andrena Van Doren, and she can add to the total Saturday at Arlington in the Grade 3, $150,000 Modesty Handicap.

A couple of seasons ago, Van Doren and Shirota campaigned a nice handicap horse named Jadada, whose best win came in the Fayette Handicap at Keeneland. But Shaconage might be better. Last August, she scored at 15-1 in the Ontario Colleen Handicap at Woodbine, and though Shaconage lost her next five starts, that stakes win let Shirota know he had raw material to work with.

"She didn't get good this year until we came back up to Kentucky in the spring," said Shirota.

A former jockey, Shirota, 71, said he likes the small-stable approach. And Shaconage demands attention.

"She can get a little nasty on you," Shirota said. "She's a handful to be around. When she trains, I have to send her to the track with a pony every day. She got loose too many times."

But Shaconage, a late June foal, has begun to settle down at age 4. She is getting easier to train as her performance continues to improve. Between her stakes victories, Shaconage was fifth in the Mint Julep Handicap, but she had trouble in the race. In losing, Shirota and jockey Brice Blanc learned an important lesson about the long-striding Shaconage, whose move is steady and strong, not quick and dynamic: "Keep her outside," Shirota said.

Shaconage travels by van from Kentucky on Thursday.

Timo pulls out of American Derby

The New York-California showdown in Saturday's American Derby is off, done in by an achy hoof. Timo, who is based in New York, will not make the trip to Arlington, his trip canceled by an abscessed foot. His absence leaves Toasted, a California-based horse, as a certain favorite in the Grade 2 grass race.

Timo was scheduled to fly here Wednesday, but the foot problem was detected Monday afternoon.

"He popped an abscess," said trainer Billy Badgett on Wednesday. "He had a big pulse in his foot Monday. He has a soft spot right at the bulb of his heel. In fact, it burst open this morning, which is good. We'll try to get a shoe on him Friday. He'll live to fight another day."

Timo won the Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park in his last start. Badgett had planned to use the American Derby as a lead-in to the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes here Aug. 14, but he says he remains hopeful Timo can make that race.

"If things go well, we should have plenty of time," Badgett said.

Bridlestone could end Calhoun slump

Back in late May, Bret Calhoun was already getting testy. Calhoun is used to winning races in bunches, and typically about one out of every four of his starters is victorious. But at Lone Star, Calhoun's strike rate had slowed, and at Arlington, he is still looking for his first win after sending out 21 starters.

This cannot continue much longer. Calhoun's operation is too strong, his approach too focused and realistic, for the losing to proliferate. In Arlington's featured 10th race, a second-level allowance, there is a horse named Bridlestone - could this be the one?

Calhoun has sent out more obvious horses at the meet, but Bridlestone, unraced since May 2003, has some merits. She was no superstar in her previous incarnation, but this is her first start for Calhoun, and her Arlington workouts for this comeback race seem noteworthy: On June 16, five furlongs in 1:00.60; two weeks later, six furlongs in 1:14; and July 7, seven furlongs in 1:26.80, a strong long-distance work for this racetrack.

Seemingly soft opposition in Friday's six-furlong race helps Bridlestone's cause, as does a wide post on a track that has generally favored outside paths throughout the meet. The favorites, both drawn inside, are Miss Concerto and Good As Silver. Although both come off solid efforts, neither seems worth of a play at short odds.