05/19/2004 11:00PM

Sound of Gold looks better with age

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Enter the Iowa-bred.

Sound of Gold has come to Chicago from the Prairie Meadows base of trainer Paul Pearson. Not only does she train in Iowa, she was born there. Moreover, Sound of Gold is a 6-year-old mare with 38 starts behind her.

And no, she is not at Arlington Park for something like a $14,000 claiming race. Sound of Gold is a stakes horse now, and a fairly solid one, too. She should be on the lead Saturday in the $38,000 Reluctant Guest Handicap, and Sound of Gold will take plenty of catching. Seven opponents are scheduled to try in a race carded for about one mile on grass.

Not many will have heard of Sound of Gold's broodmare sire, No Louder, but her sire, Mutakkdim, has gained recognition through offspring like the Grade 1 winner Lady Tak. Still, put the state of Iowa in a horse's pedigree, and many racetrackers scoff. Yes, Sound of Gold has run in many statebred stakes races, but this season she has taken her game to a new level, beating open stakes horses at Sam Houston in two of her last three starts, including a narrow win over the excellent turf sprinter Leslie's Love. In 2004, Sound of Gold has won 4 of 5 starts, giving her 7 wins from 12 career grass starts.

Arlington watchers can expect more from her than they saw last summer, when Sound of Gold finished second here in a $65,000 turf claimer.

"Oh, she's definitely a better horse now than she was then," said Pearson, who trains Sound of Gold for the River Ridge Ranch.

Pearson said he lets horses develop at their own speed. If a horse with some ability isn't ready to show it at age 3, Pearson goes slowly.

"We've had several 6-year-olds do real well," Pearson said. "Why waste their 3-year-old and 4-year-old year if you don't have to?"

Sound of Gold will need a peak performance to win a race that has come up strong for the purse level.

Dancing With Me won the 2003 Reluctant Guest and is back for another try, with a useful Keeneland prep race under her belt. Delicatessa won the $75,000 Estrapade Handicap over this course last season and was a close fourth last out at Hawthorne in her first start of the year. She should move forward, and so, too, could Valiant Anna, who finished second by a head April 25 in a Gulfstream allowance race, her first start of the season.

Homecoming for Defense Motion

A horse named Defense Motion runs in Saturday's ninth race here for trainer Bret Calhoun and owners named Jacobs and Baffert. Yes, that Baffert.

Defense Motion made his debut April 17 in an open maiden race at Santa Anita and won it, beating 10 rivals. The bad news for his opponents at Arlington Park is that Defense Motion is an Illinois-bred. Bob Baffert trained him until a week ago, when Defense Motion was flown to Kentucky and shipped to Chicago. This, after all, is where they run races for Illinois-breds.

"They want to take advantage of the Illinois program, is what I understand," said Calhoun, who has housed Baffert's shippers at Lone Star Park. "He ran pretty green, and he ran in spurts when he won, and I guess the time wasn't that fast."

Even so, there are not many Illinois-bred who beat open company in Southern California. And if Defense Motion bears watching as Arlington's summer rolls along, so does Calhoun, whose 40 allotted stalls here are nowhere close to being filled. Calhoun said he is ready to begin shipping loads of six or eight horses here each week from Lone Star, but won't have his entire Arlington string up and running until Lone Star closes in July.

"If there wasn't so much overlap between Arlington and Lone Star, I'd be up there with even more," Calhoun said.

Meet's first juvenile winner

There are several riders currently at Arlington who rode in Kentucky last summer, including Jason Lumpkins, Jose Martinez Jr., and Greta Kuntzweiler. Of those, Lumpkins is perhaps the best known, with successful stints in both Kentucky and northern California, and he wasted little time getting started here, winning Thursday's third race with Silky Bay.

The race was Arlington's first of the season for 2-year-olds, and though Silky Bay paid $20.20, her win should have come as no surprise. Steve Asmussen trains Silky Bay, and Asmussen has in his care a huge number of 2-year-olds this season. The first string is with him in Kentucky, but Silky Bay fit this spot, winning by 1 3/4 lengths and running 4 1/2 furlongs in 53.43 seconds.