09/08/2003 11:00PM

Is Stormybdancing a paper tiger?


CHICAGO - The bettors have been chasing Stormybdancing ever since she popped at odds of 20-1 in her turf debut back in April, and they will be hot on her tail in the seventh race on Thursday at Arlington.

Stormybdancing heads a large field in the nominal feature on a nine-race card here. The race, at about 1 1/16 miles on grass, is restricted to 3-year-old fillies. It is getting late in the year for 3-year-old restricted races, and the opportunity to run in such a race has brought out 12 horses.

Stormybdancing is the favorite on paper, but is she a paper tiger? After losing the first three starts of her career by a combined 90 lengths or so, Stormybdancing switched to grass racing and won in her first try; the surprise was that she went off at 20-1, not 70-1. The move into allowance company didn't overwhelm Stormybdancing, who is owned by Nancy and Bob Bartels, trained by Terrel Gore, and ridden by Zoe Cadman. She was second in her first try with other winners, then third two times, then second again in her last start.

Because it came against older horses, that recent race should make her the solid favorite Thursday. Moreover, speed-figure players will note Stormybdancing's consistency in that area: She has earned a 78 Beyer in three of her last four starts, a much stronger pattern than any of her rivals.

But anyone seeking value must stay off Stormybdancing's trail this time. The 9-2's and 5-1's she offered in recent starts were fine, but at something more like 2-1, her tendency to settle for seconds and thirds becomes a major liability.

The alternatives are not obvious. Skrate stumbled and dumped her rider at the start of an Aug. 10 turf race at Ellis Park. First in her career debut and second in her second start, Skrate will try again for the trainer Mike Bell. As a daughter of the young sire Arch and a granddaughter of Gone West, Skrate is bred to have an affinity for grass, which she hasn't tried before.

Golden Ellen won a Hawthorne maiden race this spring by almost 10 lengths, thus earning a trip to Keeneland, where she finished a troubled fourth. Those races showed signs of quality, and Golden Ellen, who encountered traffic problems in the stretch run of her turf and two-turn debut here last month, may now be set to make something of her early promise.