06/28/2004 11:00PM

Tough shippers in for big weekend


CHICAGO - Ballingarry, traveling with two companions, arrived in Chicago on Tuesday morning to make a run at his second straight win in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park.

The companions aren't just window dressing. One, Johnny Red Kerr, is bound for a maiden race, but the other, Toasted, might be the horse to beat Saturday in the Grade 2 Arlington Classic, first leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old grass horses.

This is the first big weekend of stakes racing at the Arlington meet, which began in mid-May. There has been only one graded stakes in six weeks. Now, there are two in one weekend.

Six or seven horses besides Toasted are considered possible starters in the Arlington Classic. The list includes Caiman, Count on the Tuna, Exploited Storm, Old Deuteronomy, Tiger Heart, Up Anchor, and Street Theater - a Californian, like Toasted.

A European import owned by Chicagoan Sidney Port, Toasted comes off a second-place finish in the Will Rogers Stakes at Hollywood Park. The start before, Toasted impressively won the La Puente at Santa Anita Park. And the change in venue is not a minor detail. Hollywood's grass course has been exceptionally fast this summer, and it is not the type of course that typically suits a come-from-behind horse like Toasted. So when trainer Laura de Seroux says she looks forward to coming to Arlington this weekend, it is not just for the scenery. De Seroux believes Toasted and Ballingarry will prefer the grass course here to Hollywood's.

"They're going so fast over it, it's crazy," de Seroux said. "It's gotten so I don't even want to breeze them on it anymore."

Purchased privately last year, Toasted has just seven career starts, and only two grass races in this country. On form, he seems like a horse with a chance to have a strong second half of the season.

"I think he's top-class," de Seroux said. "He's a lovely, lovely horse."

Even if Toasted wins Saturday, don't expect him back in three weeks for the American Derby, since that race comes back too quickly for de Seroux's liking.

Ballingarry is at his best, de Seroux says

Ballingarry might have five opponents in Sunday's Stars and Stripes, a 1 1/2-mile grass race that is coming together solidly. Ballingarry has not won since his victory here last season, though de Seroux attributes the horse's drought to bad luck and minor problems.

"He's coming to Arlington at his best right now," she said. "He's based in California, but he's not really suited to the turf courses here. We're gearing up to start running him on the kind of turf courses that he likes."

The last time he raced, Ballingarry finished third in the Louisville Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, and the horse who won the race, Silverfoot, is expected for the Stars and Stripes. Adding depth to the field is the Ken McPeek-trained entry of Hard Buck and Art Variety, with a third McPeek horse, Prodigus, also a possible starter. Quest Star and the locally based Prospect Green also could run.

Gimme an A holds edge in dirt heat

A pair of one-mile, entry-level allowance races, one on turf, the other on dirt, headlines a nine-race Thursday program at Arlington.

The eighth is the dirt race, but the leading contender here has done as much on turf as on dirt. Still, Gimme an A looks best in field of seven.

James Graham rides Gimme an A for trainer Jeff Thornbury - which is only appropriate, since Thornbury has been instrumental in Graham's young career. Graham hasn't ridden the horse since his career debut last September at Ellis Park, when he was a good second to a nice horse named Founding Chairman. In fact, Gimme an A ran six good races in a row before turning in a clunker April 2 at Keeneland. He has not raced since, but has a favorable work pattern at Arlington for his comeback.

The ninth, the grass heat, is for fillies, and it is a tough race to decipher. Skip Poker has been rained off turf her last two starts, and she is almost certainly a better horse on turf. Trained by McPeek, she is ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr., who has been winning more than his share of Arlington grass races.