06/21/2005 11:00PM

Turf looks likely for Southern Africa


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - So, Southern Africa doesn't match up with Afleet Alex. Nor does he appear to relish running 1 1/2 miles. Now, with his eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes fading in the rear-view mirror, Southern Africa is gearing up for life after the Triple Crown.

His comeback is scheduled for a date sooner rather than later. If Southern Africa works to the satisfaction of trainer Mike Puhich on Monday or Tuesday, he will race July 2 in the Arlington Classic, the first of three graded turf stakes for 3-year-olds at this meet.

"He was tired the first day that he got back, but right now, he's as good as he ever was," Puhich said Wednesday morning. "It looks like we're going to run in the Classic. We'll work early next week, and if he's doing as good as he is today, he's fit to run."

Southern Africa ran himself into the Belmont picture by winning the Lone Star Derby on May 14, and appeared to be going to New York in top form, having worked strongly at Arlington before shipping for the race. After prompting the Belmont pace into the stretch, though, Southern Africa pretty much stopped, finishing some 17 lengths behind Afleet Alex.

"I thought he ran good, but he's not in the same league as Afleet Alex, and one and one-half miles is too far for him," said Puhich. "That last quarter-mile was too much."

The Arlington Classic is at 1 1/16 miles, and if he runs, Southern Africa will be returning to turf for the first time since owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood privately purchased him out of England. Running in grass sprints there, Southern Africa won two of three starts at age 2, his lone loss a second in a listed stakes race.

Puhich also has an Arlington-based 2-year-old named Cole Express, who made his debut here June 8, winning by four lengths while equaling the track record for 4 1/2 furlongs with a time of 51.74 seconds. Cole Express is being pointed to the Bashford Manor Stakes on July 10 at Churchill.

"We've had high expectations for him since we've had him," Puhich said. "He's a real athlete."

Invader tops White Oak

The White Oak Handicap attracted only seven horses when entries were taken Wednesday, but it's still one of the best races on Saturday's Prairie State Festival Card, which includes six $75,000 stakes races for Illinois-breds.

Leading the White Oak is Take Achance on Me, one of the few out-of-town shippers coming to Arlington for the stakes sequence. Take Achance on Me, based in Maryland with trainer Mike Trombetta, was scheduled to ship by van to Chicago on Thursday, hoping to duplicate a successful Chicago trip in May, when he won the Chicagoland Handicap at Hawthorne. Finishing second that day was Silver Bid, who returns Saturday along with Shandy, Harbor Craft, Manitowish, Big Bold Sweep, and Just See James, a new player in the Illinois-bred sprint-stakes division.

Last year, at age 3, Just See James won three of six starts, but after two straight statebred allowance victories late in the Arlington meet, he went down with an ankle injury. When he returned in March, Just See James, owned by Linda and Jeff Lafoy, had switched trainers, from Joe McKellar to Kris Turner.

"When they first called me and asked me to take the horse, I said, 'If you weren't happy with Joe, you probably won't be happy with me,' " Turner said.

McKellar wasn't coming to Arlington this year, though, and that is how Just See James took up residence in Turner's eight-horse stable. Turner gave Just See James five works, then ran him in an overnight handicap here June 5, and Just See James won by a half-length, beating horses of statebred-stakes quality while running seven furlongs in 1:21.60.

"He's a total pro," said Turner. "The only thing you have to watch is he'll work too fast."

Big names out with injuries

Most of the expected names for Saturday's Illinois stakes races showed up in the entry box Wednesday, but there were absences. Top Kick, an unbeaten 3-year-old, wasn't even nominated to the Springfield Stakes, having gone down with a sesamoid fracture in a workout here last month. Trainer Paul Darjean said Top Kick should return next year.

Taken out of the Isaac Murphy for older female sprinters is last year's Illinois champion older horse, Synco Peach, who came out of a recent three-furlong work with an injury and will be out at least until fall, according to trainer Percy Scherbenske.

Jaguar City is the horse to beat in the Isaac Murphy - unless she runs in the Lincoln Heritage at two turns on turf. Trainer Bobby Springer, who will send out the high-class Home of Stars to face Fort Prado in the Black Tie Affair Handicap, nominated Jaguar City to both races. The Lincoln Heritage appears to be wide-open, as does the Springfield for 3-year-old colts. Pretty Jenny will be heavily favored in the Purple Violet for 3-year-old fillies.