07/22/2004 12:00AM

Toasted too hot to stop now


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Fifteen minutes after easily won the Arlington Classic here July 3, his trainer, Laura de Seroux, deemed Toasted an unlikely participant in the American Derby. A day later, her opinion seemed even more slanted toward skipping the race and going straight to the Grade 1 Secretariat on Aug. 14.

But when Toasted returned to de Seroux's home base at San Luis Rey Downs in California, he looked nothing like a horse needing six weeks between starts. "He was on his toes," de Seroux said.

And if Toasted was doing so well, why skip a race in which he would be favored for one in which the competition would be much, much tougher? That is why Toasted came back to Arlington this week, and is indeed the horse to beat Saturday in the Grade 2, $250,000 American Derby, run at 1 3/16 miles on turf. The Derby is the second leg of Arlington's Mid-American Triple, the loosely linked series of 3-year-old grass races.

Of Toasted's seven rivals, Simple Exchange appears to be the most formidable. Bred and based in Ireland, he is trained by Dermot Weld, who has sent horses overseas to win this race two of the last four years. Last season, it was Evolving Tactics; four seasons ago, it was Pine Dance. Simple Exchange, a listed stakes winner at 2 who has started just once this season, might be better than those horses.

"He's probably a better horse," said Jeff Byrne, a traveling lad for Weld who is making his sixth trip to Arlington. "He was a better 2-year-old, anyway."

Byrne said that since Weld likes the American Derby, the race has been Simple Exchange's target for a couple of months.

"We gave him a nice run at Royal Ascot," said Byrne. "He flew there to see how he would handle the travel. That's one thing about the boss. He would only send a pretty good traveler."

Toasted, however, did his traveling last fall, when Chicago-based owner Sidney Port purchased him out of France. Toasted got a look on dirt to start his U.S. career, finished eighth, and was quickly returned to grass, on which he has won two stakes this season.

Another contender in the race could be Cool Conductor, who bled and was rank when he finished third to Toasted in the Arlington Classic. Supplemented to this race, Cool Conductor is back with blinkers off and Lasix on for trainer Bill Mott.