08/26/2002 11:00PM

'Sunshine' needs a win

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CHICAGO - At 9 he seemed ageless, but at 10 Bet on Sunshine has begun looking like a horse on the downside of a wonderful career. Trainer Paul McGee says it's not time yet, but if Bet on Sunshine is to stave off retirement he will have to start winning races like the one he's entered in Thursday at Arlington.

A high-end allowance with a $100,000 claiming option, it's the kind of race Bet on Sunshine used to dominate, but things are different now. Bet on Sunshine, owned for about eight years by David Holloway, has lost all three starts this season and hasn't won a sprint race since last October.

When he was fourth in a Churchill allowance to start his season in May, Bet on Sunshine had the usual excuse of a horse coming back from a winter break, and in any case the allowance was a prep for the Aristides Handicap, a race Bet on Sunshine has owned. But since Bet on Sunshine failed to fire in that start, then came back a month later with an even third in the Don Bernhardt Handicap at Ellis Park, he must soon show he can compete on the high level at which he deserves to race in the twilight of his career.

But don't count him out. Bet on Sunshine has won four of five starts at Arlington, and McGee says Bet on Sunshine has continued training with gusto. His work pattern says as much - three recent five-furlong breezes, including a Churchill Downs bullet on Aug. 17.

Chindi usually plays the old man's role in his races, but at 8 he gives two years to Bet on Sunshine, though he has raced 12 more times and has made almost as many starts this season - eight - as Bet on Sunshine has made in his last two. But while Bet on Sunshine has tactical speed, Chindi is a stone closer who needs pace he might not get in Thursday's 6 1/2-furlong race.

San Pedro, six years younger than Bet on Sunshine, is the dark horse in this field. San Pedro cracked a cannon bone during the winter of 2001 but returned with a sharp sprint win at Arlington last summer. This year, trainer Spanky Broussard said, general wear and tear sent San Pedro to the farm in April, but a series of good works should have San Pedro set for a strong race Thursday, even at a distance shorter than his best.

"He's doing fine," Broussard said. "It's just a question of whether he can get up in time."