06/16/2003 11:00PM

'Take Achance' comes home


CHICAGO - Sometime late Wednesday a truck and trailer moving west will cross the Illinois state line and bring a horse named Take Achance on Me home for the first time in a long time.

He has not come to smell the pastures of his youth, to snort at old relatives. He has come because his connections want to earn the winner's share of a $75,000-added purse Saturday at Arlington Park.

Take Achance on Me was foaled in Illinois five years ago, but most of his 22 starts have come in Maryland, and none have come here. A year after a dismal, winless season, the time is ripe for Take Achance on Me's return. Sharp form has earned him a berth in the White Oak Handicap, one of six races for statebreds on the Prairie State Festival here Saturday.

It's a given the 30-year-old trainer Tony Aguirre will be riding along on this trip. With Take Achance on Me, Aguirre doesn't miss a day of riding.

"I do about everything with the horse," Aguirre said. "Nobody gets on him in the morning but me."

The owners Dale and Joan Everett - who race as Ben Dover Farm - sent Take Achance on Me to Aguirre late last year. Take Achance on Me showed talent at 3, winning three starts and a stakes race sprinting on turf, but he had a miserable 4-year-old season, losing all seven of his starts.

"When he came to me, he was so darn sour," said Aguirre, who has a 12-horse string at Laurel. "He didn't want to train, he didn't want to work. But he was sound."

Aguirre spent the first couple weeks devising ways to fool Take Achance on Me into training. His attitude improved, and finally, said Aguirre, "I let him breeze one day and he went in 59 [seconds for five furlongs]."

This was no illusion. Take Achance on Me ran third behind the stakes-caliber horses Shake the Dice and Crossing Point in his comeback race. But, he still was 34-1 two starts later on March 2 when he won in a similarly talented allowance field. Aguirre said he bet $100 across the board that day.

And Take Achance on Me has remained a good bet all year. Despite excellent form all season - two wins, four seconds, and a third from seven starts - he has continued to race at long odds. He was 14-1 for a troubled second in a $75,000 grass stakes race at Gulfstream, and 7-1 late last month when he finished second on a boggy course in a $100,000 Lone Star turf stakes race.

The odds will be much shorter Saturday, but after last season Take Achance on Me was a longshot to be traveling to Arlington for a stakes race.

"You know, when the owners asked me if I'd like to train him, running in Illinois wasn't even an issue," Aguirre said. "He wasn't good enough to think about it then."

He is now.

High expectations for 'Heart'

All My Sweet Heart has done so far is to race once and win in a nondescript field of Illinois-bred maidens.

But there is more texture to the story than that. My Sweet Heart is the Illinois-bred with a world-famous pedigree, a half-sister to War Emblem, the Derby and Preakness winner of 2002. And her trainer, Frank "Bobby" Springer, the man who developed War Emblem, likes her.

This information, not her humdrum maiden win May 16, makes My Sweet Heart worth watching Saturday, when she's scheduled to start in the $75,000 Purple Violet Stakes on the Prairie State Festival card here.

Springer has tentatively pointed My Sweet Heart to the Purple Violet all along. Saturday, he put her and his other two Prairie State stakes hopefuls, Home of Stars and Our Last Novel, through major five-furlong workouts for their races. All three breezed quickly, Home of Stars in 59.60 seconds, Our Last Novel in 59.80, and My Sweet Heart in 1:00.60.

"They went all right," said Springer, who trains the trio for Russell Reineman, War Emblem's original owner. "I'd like all three of them to run. They've raced sparingly and if the races overfill they might not get in."

Our Last Novel races in the Cardinal Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf, and he is in tough, but My Sweet Heart and Home of Stars land in spots where they have a good chance to win. The 3-year-old Home of Stars may be the horse to beat in the one-mile Land of Lincoln. He's raced against open company in four of his five starts, holding his own while giving the impression his best racing lies ahead of him.

"If he wasn't doing good now, we wouldn't be thinking of running him," Springer said.

Rock Slide will stay on turf

Rock Slide returned to Kentucky no worse for wear after running perhaps the best race of his life Sunday at Arlington. Rock Slide's nose win over Miesque's Approval in the Sea o'Erin Breeders' Cup Mile showed he should be at least as effective a grass horse as he was during his main-track phase.

"It looked like he came home real good," trainer Neil Howard said Monday. "I was very impressed with him. They finished good and the time was good. I think right now, we'll probably limit his dirt racing to grass races that come off the turf."

Rock Slide remains on target for the Firecracker Breeders' Cup on Churchill's closing weekend next month. After that, there are races to consider at Arlington and Saratoga.

"We have to see what his best distance is," Howard said. "He's a big horse, but maybe that mile to a mile and a sixteenth is his best race."