05/25/2004 12:00AM

Things start to look up


CHICAGO - Arlington Park opens in mid-May, but the meet doesn't take off the training wheels until June. They have yet to run an open stakes here. Some days, entries have been slow. Others, the races have filled surprisingly well. Uneven weather has complicated matters. The days have been starting off cloudy and cool. Then someone throws a switch and the hot, humid air streams back in. Rain by evening, and grass races get moved to the main track.

Finally, a decent forecast - mostly sunny Thursday with a high in the upper 70's. Tuesday, it was gray and cool and damp in the morning when two top local horses worked for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Handicap, the start of the summer stakes schedule. Apt to Be, who won the 2003 Hanshin, went a half-mile in 48.60 seconds. Wiggins, one of the top Illinois-breds in training, bulleted three furlongs in 36 seconds.

Two seasons ago, Wiggins was merely one among a couple of hundred unproven Illinois-bred 2-year-olds. Eight such horses were entered in the Thursday opener, contested at 4 1/2 furlongs.

Richard Hazelton, in his seventh decade of training, saddles the possible favorite, Sparks, who was second in an open maiden race May 4 at Hawthorne. Over the weekend, Kemp, a 3-year-old Illinois-bred Hazelton thinks is a nice horse, rebounded from a poor seasonal debut to score an easy entry-level allowance victory. Sparks was okay in her first start, but do not be surprised to see Barken, a first-timer from the Tom Swearingen stable, take betting action.

Jump to race 7, an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance that actually has a shot to remain on turf. Bettors are likely to view it as a two-horse race, with Home of Stars and A Spot of Greatnes the major players.

Moving from open to statebred company, A Spot of Greatnes easily won his maiden late last month at Hawthorne. Home of Stars has not won in a year and a half, and has raced only once since last summer. He has talent, but lacks turf experience.

After puzzling through the statebreds, interested bettors can begin sharpening their darts for the eighth, an open entry-level allowance sprint. Any one of the seven horses can win.