07/06/2001 12:00AM

Spectacular Cat begins ninth or 10th life

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With only a $50,000-added purse, the Alydar Stakes, Arlington's Sunday feature, brings together emerging 3-year-olds and 3-year-olds who have run out of allowance conditions but can't compete with true stakes horses. For Spectacular Cat, it's a chance to breathe some good karma into a partially deflated career.

Spectacular Cat is almost overqualified for the one-mile Alydar. In nine trips to the post he has run in two Grade 2's, a Grade 3, won the $75,000 Spectacular Bid at Arlington last summer, and has competed in stakes company his last six starts.

And yet his career has at times verged on disappointment. After winning the Spectacular Bid on Sept. 3, Spectacular Cat, a Forest Wildcat colt owned by Dee and Bill Davenport, finished fourth, ninth, fourth, then ninth again, before returning to action here June 17 with a revitalized performance in the $50,000 Joe Marovich Stakes, where he was a fast-closing third.

The dry spell, though, had at least as much to do with bad luck as with bad performances. Spectacular Cat had trouble in both his Grade 2 starts to finish off his 2-year-old season. Trainer Jerry Calvin said the colt was only partially fit when he finished fourth in Oaklawn's Southwest Stakes to launch his 2001 campaign. The Southwest was to have been a prep for the Grade 3 Rebel, but Spectacular Cat was harboring a bad lung infection when he ran in the Rebel and he was badly beaten.

The litany of excuses didn't end in the Marovich, where Spectacular Cat lost a ton of ground while making a wide run on the turn. The fast finish harked back to his best races last year and hinted at better things to come, as did a fast four-furlong work here July 3. Jockey Tim Doocy has a return call.

Seven opponents await in the Alydar. Tub Tosser won the seven-furlong Marovich with a perfect trip and might not want a mile. Copper Country is lightly raced and talented, but flopped in his only stakes race, albeit a Grade 3. Storm Mist benefited from a speed bias when he won a second-level allowance on opening day. Discreet Hero stretched out to a mile and won a Churchill allowance race in his last start. Sky Tower, Sterna, and One Special Judge complete the Alydar field.

Springer barn calls on Lady of Peace

A stakes-quality filly-and-mare turf allowance immediately precedes the Alydar, with a field of 10 entered in the nine-furlong race. The hot-barn play is Lady of Peace, a Russel Reineman-owned filly who will be saddled by trainer Bobby Springer. On Thursday, Springer won two turf allowance races for Reineman with Distorted Power, who won the seventh race by a neck, and Special Home, who won the ninth by a neck.

Springer has always held Lady of Peace in high regard, and the filly win three straight races at Fair Grounds this winter before going off form in her last two starts.

Among others, Lady of Peace faces stakes-winners Watch, Euryanthe, Show Me Genius and Lady An-gharad.

Strike It Smart starts up again

Trainer Al Stall, who has started only a handful of horses at this meet, will have an active weekend here, with Bright Valour going in Saturday's Hanshin Handicap and Discreet Hero in Sunday's Alydar.

Stall will take a string of horses to Saratoga, but currently divides his stock between Arlington and Churchill, where the 3-year-old Strike It Smart resumed training Thursday morning. The lightly raced Strike It Smart was one of the most promising Triple Crown prospects at Fair Grounds this winter and won two of his first three races there, but after losses at Oaklawn in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby, Strike It Smart was turned out for 70 days.

The turnout was overdue. Stall hadn't been pleased with the colt's energy level or appetite through much of the winter, and he said Strike It Smart had a lung infection even while he was winning races.

Stall said Strike It Smart put on about 140 pounds during his time away from the track. "The average is about a pound a day, so that's pretty amazing," he said.

Stall will go slowly with Strike It Smart now, he said, and the colt might not race again until the Keeneland meet in October.

Where's Taylor may be Atto-bound

Where's Taylor, who finished a game second but was disqualified to third Wednesday in the Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup at Churchill, is back at trainer Mike Stidham's Arlington barn and could make his next start Sept. 9 in the Atto Mile at Woodbine.

In the Firecracker, Where's Taylor, who's owned by Chicagoan Barry Golden, lost a photo finish for win with heavy favorite Irish Prize, but bumped third-place finisher Aly's Alley in the stretch and was placed third. Passed in midstretch by Irish Prize, Where's Taylor re-rallied and nearly overtook the winner at the finish.

"He was all heart, that's all I can say," said assistant trainer Hilary Pridham.

* Wednesday's card starts Arlington's Summer Festival, a seven-week meet within a meet that features increased purses and the top stakes racing of the Chicago season. The Festival coincides with end of the Churchill Downs meet Sunday, which will lead to an influx of Kentucky-based entrants here. The purse increase, affecting races across the board, is significant. Maiden allowance races, for example, which have been worth $28,000, now boast $48,000 purses.