07/24/2004 12:00AM

Simple Exchange by a neck

Arlington Park
Simple Exchange (inside) battles Cool Conductor in the stretch of the Grade 2 American Derby at Arlington.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Dermot Weld has done it again, sending a horse from Ireland to win the American Derby at Arlington Park for the third time in five years. Saturday, on Million Preview Day here, Simple Exchange looked not just like a horse for the Grade 2, $250,000 , which he won by a neck over Cool Conductor, but also like one for the Grade 1 Secretariat on Aug. 14.

Simple Exchange is no European-style plodder. He broke sharply under jockey Pat Smullen, setting the pace around the first turn before settling into third, and he showed good acceleration to outlast Cool Conductor, who ran well in defeat. Toasted, the favorite, rallied outside the top two, but couldn't reach them and finished three-quarters of a length back in third.

Simple Exchange ($6.40) was timed in 1:54.93 for 1 3/16 miles over firm turf, a stakes record.

"He's a tough horse," Smullen said. "He's genuine."

Weld, one of Ireland's leading trainers, won the American Derby four years ago with Pine Dance and last year with Evolving Tactics, but Simple Exchange might be the best of the bunch.

"I know early in the year all the different horses I have, and I plan out campaigns in my head," Weld said. "He's a late-developing colt, and I always thought the second half of his year would be better. That's why we gave him only one race before now. I thought he'd win this."

Typically, the American Derby has been four weeks before the Secretariat, but this year only three weeks separate the races. Since visiting foreign horses must leave the country 30 days after arriving, the change allows Simple Exchange to remain.

He will stay right here and wait for the big race.

Senor Swinger survives foul claim

It had roused more than a casual mention from some that jockey Pat Day went to Ellis Park instead of Arlington Park on Sunday. Day chose to ride Fire Slam in the Don Bernhardt Handicap - which he won - instead of Senor Swinger in the , though he had ridden both the last time they raced.

Count among the unimpressed Brice Blanc, who inherited the mount on Senor Swinger, got on the horse for the first time Saturday, and gave him a beautiful, ground-saving ride on the way to a tumultuous head victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Handicap.

Senor Swinger had to withstand a claim of foul by Chris Block, trainer of the second-place Mystery Giver. Block claimed Senor Swinger's swing to the outside three strides into the race had compromised his horse's chance. Senor Swinger did come out, but the objection was disallowed. So was one by Ballingarry's rider, Rene Douglas, who said Carlos Marquez and Mystery Giver cut him off in the stretch.

So the result stood: Senor Swinger by a head over Mystery Giver, with Ballingarry another 1 1/2 lengths back in third.

Blanc moved his tack to Kentucky last year, and his business was at first slow. But he has begun riding stakes horses for Ken McPeek, and picked up a live mount for the Bob Baffert barn Saturday.

Blanc's key moment came at the quarter pole. Locked inside, as On the Course and Rowans Park dawdled through a half-mile in 49.95 seconds and three-quarters in 1:15.16, Blanc sat chilly, waiting for a hole to open on the rail. It finally did in the last furlong, and Senor Swinger barreled through to victory.

"It was a little tight down there," Blanc conceded. "I didn't have much choice, though. They usually open up at some point."

Senor Swinger, second choice behind Ballingarry, paid $5.60 to win, running 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.38.

Mystery Giver ran strongly in defeat, atoning for a disappointing sixth-place finish in an Illinois-bred handicap last month.

"He rises to the occasion," Block said. Just a head too short, this time.

Easy victory for Bedanken

Bedanken, looking like a legitimate contender for the Grade 1 Beverly D. next month, cruised to an easy win in the Grade 3, $150,000 . Bedanken won by three-quarters of a length, but the race ended long before the finish. Forced onto the lead by a slow pace, Bedanken kicked away from the field at the top of the stretch, and eased through the final furlong under Don Pettinger.

Aud won a battle with Shaconage for place, with Delicatessa fourth. Beret threw jockey Chris Emigh at the start and ran loose, but did not affect the race.

Nobody wanted the lead in the Modesty, and Julie's Prize, typically a deep closer, somehow ended up leading through an opening quarter-mile in 25.37 seconds. Bedanken also prefers to run from behind, but after getting caught three wide on the first turn, Pettinger had no choice but to let Bedanken range up toward the lead. The half went in 50.67, three-quarters in 1:15.10 - and finally, Pettinger could wait no longer. Bedanken quickly got away from Julie's Prize.

Bedanken, bred and owned by Pin Oak Farm and trained by Donnie Von Hemel, paid $4.80 to win, and was timed in 1:57 for 1 3/16 miles on turf.