06/30/2004 11:00PM

Toasted a star on the rise


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Some have said Arlington's early season looks very much like the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet that ended just before this one began. And it is true. Racing here has had a decidedly local flavor. How could it be otherwise? Churchill Downs, Arlington's sister track under the Churchill Downs Inc. banner, has gone head-to-head with Arlington since the meet's inception, and with bigger purses and a better-known product, Churchill will win out.

But the Churchill meet is almost over, and Arlington's Summer Festival of Racing begins July 20. So, consider the Grade 2 Arlington Classic here Saturday a gateway event. Beyond it awaits Chicago's best racing of the year.

The Classic itself, first leg of Arlington's loosely linked Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old grass horses, presents an attractive initial offering. In it are two talented West Coast shippers, Toasted and Street Theatre, and four horses in from Churchill. Only two of the eight horses are locals: Caiman ran as poorly in a turf allowance race here June 20 as he did in the Belmont Stakes, while Up Anchor, winner of an overnight handicap here on grass, is more attractive.

The Churchill contingent has quality. Cool Conductor, part of trainer Bill Mott's Midwest string, comes off a third-place finish in the Jefferson Cup. Finishing in front of him were Prince Arch and Kitten's Joy, two of the better 3-year-old grass horses in the country, and since Cool Conductor adds Lasix on Saturday, he might have bled in that race. Old Deuteronomy, a pace factor, also has run well since trainer Niall O'Callaghan put an end to an early-season dirt experiment.

But they will be hard-pressed to beat Toasted, who was second in the Will Rogers at Hollywood Park in his last start and won the $110,000 La Puente on April 10 at Santa Anita.

"In the La Puente he was brilliant," said trainer Laura de Seroux.

Toasted's La Puente run clearly was the better of his two recent races, his only grass starts since being imported from Europe, and de Seroux believes Toasted has a better chance to show his best at Arlington than he did on the Hollywood turf course. "I've been pointing him to this race ever since the La Puente," she said. "I love the Arlington turf course."

, the runner-up, finished a length in front of third-place finisher Street Theatre in the Will Rogers, which was run over very firm, very fast grass. While Toasted has made only three starts in this country, Street Theatre, a Darley Stable horse trained by Eoin Harty, has run only three times in his life. Both are on the upswing - just like Arlington.