06/29/2006 11:00PM

Silver Whistle skilled in art of close races

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CHICAGO - Silver Whistle raced three weekends ago in what was no worse than the second-best U.S. turf race of the season, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park. But even if Silver Whistle comes to Arlington as a solid favorite for Sunday's Grade 3, $200,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap, a far less demanding spot, don't expect a knockout victory.

Win or lose, Silver Whistle has a knack for cutting it close. A 4-year-old, his three career victories have come by a neck, three-quarters of a length, and a head. And through a brutal three-start spell between last summer and this past winter, Silver Whistle finished second three times, losing twice by a nose in Saratoga stakes races and by a head at Gulfstream Park in his 2006 debut.

"In those close finishes, he was kind of battling away," said Bill Mott, who trains Silver Whistle for Stronach Stables. "They were just some tight races. If he was much the best, you'd think he'd go by."

If nothing else, handicappers know Silver Whistle can get the 1 1/2 miles of the Stars and Stripes. He won his only start at the distance and didn't come around until Mott stretched him out to 1 1/4 miles in his third career start. And Silver Whistle won't see any of the monsters that he faced in the Manhattan.

"That wasn't a bad race for him, but he just couldn't quicken with them," Mott said. "We'll try and stay away from a couple of those for right now."

There are seven others in the Stars and Stripes, and racing fans might be most familiar with Dreadnaught. He, too, raced in the Manhattan, but unlike Silver Whistle, who seems to run on any kind of turf, Dreadnaught struggled on a wet grass course - something that's possible Sunday - and finished last. But two starts ago, Dreadnaught finished second in the Dixie Handicap, beaten a head by Better Talk Now, but a neck better than Artie Schiller.

And from Kentucky comes a serious upset candidate, Ascertain, an Irish-bred 5-year-old who raced primarily on dirt after being imported to the U.S. Since switching to turf this season, Ascertain has done well, twice taking narrow losses to good horses before winning a high-end Churchill Downs allowance race May 27. Those starts came at middle distances, but trainer Niall O'Callaghan said he believes Sunday's longer trip is within range.

"He won over a mile and a quarter on the Polytrack in England, and it looks like he can stay all day," O'Callaghan said.