06/27/2002 11:00PM

Talknow goes up without ever falling


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - He has conquered the starter allowance ranks and climbed right up the allowance ladder. Can Talknow, who just last fall raced in a $5,000 claiming race, possibly be good enough to win Sunday's Dr. Fager, a $42,000 overnight handicap?

At this point, anything seems possible.

Talknow already has done things that seemed unimaginable for a low-level claimer. An Arkansas-bred who showed only moderate talent as a young horse, Talknow seemed to be going backwards last year. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer claimed him for $10,000, came close to winning a couple allowance races, then dropped Talknow into a $5,000 claimer on Oct. 27.

Half the backstretch jumped. There were 29 claims put in for Talknow. Trainer Tom Tomillo, who claimed the horse for his son, Tom, and Emelio Geloso, won the shake, but had no idea he had also hit the jackpot. Since the claim, Talknow has started in 10 races, won seven of them and finished second the three other times. Four wins have come in starter allowance races, three in open allowance company, including a 6 3/4-length romp in his last start, a third-level allowance at Hawthorne.

"He just keeps getting better and better," Tomillo said.

And this is where Talknow is exceptional. Once in a while, a low-level claimer will rise up and win a couple decent races in a row. But usually, the problems that sent them down to cheap claimers soon catch up with them, and their form erodes. Not Talknow.

"Believe me, I've been waiting for that to happen," Tomillo said. "Don't think that I'm not."

Instead, Talknow improves with each passing race, and he has earned a start Sunday against the best horses he has ever met.

The eight-horse field in the seven-furlong Dr. Fager includes Chindi, a multiple stakes winner of more than $766,000 who was compromised by a lack of early pace when he finished third in a June 7 allowance race here. With Tic N Tin slated to wheel back only eight days after winning the statebred White Oak Handicap here, there is more speed in the Dr. Fager, but the pace won't be especially hot and the late-running Chindi might be taken out of his game once again.

Secret Romeo has more tactical speed than Chindi and is an interesting proposition at fair odds. A Michigan-bred by Service Stripe, sire of the Grade 1 winner Cashier's Dream, Secret Romeo has won 15 of 25 starts in his career. Many of his races have come at tiny Great Lakes Downs, where the competition is soft, but Secret Romeo won the $100,000 Lost Code last winter at Sportsman's Park, beating Tic N Tin by three-quarters of a length.