07/21/2005 12:00AM

Shaconage finally avoids nemesis


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Mitch Shirota sounded a little nervous, a little gun-shy.

"She's not in there, right?" Shirota asked Thursday morning.

"She" is Delta Princess, "there" is Saturday's Modest Handicap, and "no" was the answer to Shirota's question.

Eleven horses were entered in the Modesty, a Grade 3, $150,000 turf race at 1 3/16 miles, and Delta Princess, reportedly headed to the Diana Handicap at Saratoga, was not among them. That's a major relief to Shirota, who has seen his mare Shaconage finish second to Delta Princess in her two most recent starts.

"I thought I had the race won last time," Shirota said, referring to the Locust Grove Handicap on July 2 at Churchill. "We had her boxed in, but she got out and flew home the last 40 yards. My horse was just second-best."

That has been the story of the year for , who finished third in the Modesty last season. Shaconage, bred and owned by Andrena Van Doren, has gone winless in five starts this season, though she hasn't finished worse than third. Her form looks about the same as last season, but the breaks haven't fallen her way this year.

"There has been no pace in her races, and that hasn't helped me," said Shirota.

Shaconage has wound up on the lead in her last two starts, and she's almost certainly a better horse when she's covered up early and can make a late run. That sort of trip seems possible in the Modesty, though the race might be slightly beyond Shaconage's best distance. Still, with Gary Stevens in to ride, Shaconage figures to be at least a mild favorite.

After Shaconage, the Modesty is a mishmash of evolving and devolving talent, and there ought to be ample betting value in the race. Zero in on , who, as a 4-year-old with only seven starts, has more upside than her opponents. Trained by Mike Stidham, he of the 35-percent Arlington win rate, Tisket a Tasket showed ability last year at 3, and came out with guns blazing this season, winning a second-level turf allowance here June 16 with a visually striking last-to-first move.

With pace players Ide Be a Lady, Ms. Purr, and Pretty Jane in the race, the fractions will be honest enough this time for Shaconage, but in deep stretch she might have to deal with Tisket a Tasket's powerhouse late run.