08/18/2002 11:00PM

Two best races saved for last

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With the 21st Arlington Million in the rear-view mirror, deep breaths have been drawn and long sighs exhaled.

Now comes the post-Million era of the long Arlington Park meet, one that figures to have a different feel than any in track history because of the impending arrival of the Oct. 26 World Thoroughbred Championships.

In the meantime, everyday racing will carry on, and the Wednesday card seems to typify the kind of weekday fare that fans can expect until late October, with conditioned claimers and maidens dotting the program. Yet the day will end on an upswing: Statebred fillies clash in a second-level allowance sprint in the eighth race, and the ninth race, an entry-level turf allowance, is easily the best betting race of the program.

The eighth, a $37,000 sprint at six furlongs, appears to be a terrific spot for Margies Connection, a homebred filly trained and partly owned by Gene Cilio. In a similar race three weeks ago, Margies Connection led most of the way before settling for second, and many of the rivals she faces Wednesday finished well behind her.

Serai, a recent winner for veteran trainer J.R. Smith Sr., appears to be the main challenger in a field of six.

In the ninth-race finale, a $35,000 turf race at 1 1/16 miles, horseplayers will find a wide variety of inviting choices. Divine Right, a recent maiden winner in his second start and turf debut for Elliott Walden, is as eligible as any of the 12 scheduled starters to be bet down to favoritism, especially because leading rider Rene Douglas will be aboard again.

But several others bring similarly compelling credentials, including Lacer, Straight Path, Tis Magical, Cosmo, and Jaha. Straight Path, a Marquetry colt who has shown promise in previous dirt races in Kentucky and will make his grass debut for trainer Henry Cochran, may be the sleeper in what clearly is a competitive group.

* In a case of impeccable timing, Kelsey Cooper was born Saturday at a local hospital at 4:37 p.m. Central, which happened to be precisely the scheduled post time for the Million. Cooper is the first child born to Chris and Karen Cooper. Chris Cooper oversees much of the programming and content for Arlington's Internet site, www.arlingtonpark.com.