07/22/2003 11:00PM

Summer Note returns after latest layoff

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CHICAGO - A 6-year-old gelding with top-shelf talent isn't supposed to be eligible for a fourth-level allowance race. But then there are few horses like Summer Note, who returns from a one-year layoff in Arlington's featured eighth race Friday.

Summer Note first burst onto the scene in 1999, winning his debut and an allowance race at Hawthorne, and making such short work of the competition on Chicago's West Side that he wound up in Florida that winter. At Gulfstream, Summer Note dead-heated with More Than Ready in the 2000 Hutcheson Stakes - and that was it.

Leg problems put him on the shelf for more than two years, but Summer Note wasn't finished. Prepared in Chicago by trainer Richard Hazelton for his comeback, Summer Note went to New York late last spring, where he won an allowance race before turning in decent runs in a pair of Grade 2 sprint stakes. But just as quickly, his health soured, and Summer Note was back on the shelf for another lengthy rest.

Summer Note's owner, Greg Bensinger, gave Hazelton another call this spring - Summer Note was coming back around again. The news brought a mixed response in the barn, because Summer Note is as feared as he is fast.

"He's the meanest horse I've ever been around," said Hazelton, who has trained horses in seven different decades. "He'll bite you, savage you, try to bite the exercise boy. Sometimes he doesn't want to gallop; sometimes he doesn't want to go at all. If he hadn't been gelded, he wouldn't have ever made it to the races, I don't think."

Summer Note is all racehorse in the afternoon, but morning works fail to stir his blood. "He's never really set the world on fire in the morning," Hazelton said. "But we made him work a little bit here the last couple times."

Indeed. Summer Note, with encouragement from Hazelton's rider, breezed a bullet five furlongs in 59.60 seconds here July 12 and a bullet six furlongs in 1:14 a week ago, prompting this from the highly understated Hazelton: "He's ready to run, I believe."

Summer Note has five rivals in this six-furlong allowance race, including two from trainer Louie Roussel, Tonyspal Craig and Bright Valour. Both those horses should be dangerous, as should the comeback runner Deer Lake, who was fourth in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister last out this past winter at Gulfstream. Storm Commander and Mister Michael complete the field.