07/11/2001 11:00PM

Uncertainty over Tour's next stop

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Where the Tour Bus stops next, in Chicago or Saratoga Springs, remained uncertain Thursday morning. Trainer Niall O'Callaghan said he is "50-50" between the Whitney or Washington Park Handicaps for Guided Tour's next race.

A month ago Guided Tour upset Churchill's Grade 2 Stephen Foster and heavily favored Captain Steve. On Thursday, Guided Tour put in what O'Callaghan deemed a strong workout at his Churchill Downs base. O'Callaghan timed Guided Tour for a five-furlong breeze in about 1:02.40, but the work officially was recorded as a half-mile in 52.30 seconds. Guided Tour's lackluster habits during morning exercise originally earned him the nickname of Tour Bus.

"[Exercise rider] Samantha Whitehall said he was strong," O'Callaghan said. "I go more by what she says than by times."

The Whitney field is likely to be a stronger race than the Washington Park, though the injured Include is out of the Whitney. The Whitney, however, is run at nine furlongs, the Washington Park at 1 1/4 miles. In nine-furlong dirt races, Guided Tour's record is 5-3-2-0; in 10-furlong dirt races it is 4-0-1-1. O'Callaghan and regular rider Larry Melancon think Guided Tour can stay 1 1/4 miles. Both feel that subpar performances, not distance limitations, compromised Guided Tour in his 10-furlong starts.

Owner Morton Fink is a Chicagoan, which could sway O'Callaghan toward the Washington Park. But O'Callaghan is expecting Guided Tour to be assigned a lighter weight in the Whitney than in the Washington Park, and weight, O'Callaghan says, will play a major role in which race he chooses. Guided Tour carried 10 pounds fewer than Captain Steve in the Stephen Foster, and O'Callaghan said he wouldn't have entered Guided Tour without the weight swing.

"He's established a level, I think," O'Callaghan said. "He can't beat the top horses unless he's getting the right weight."

In any case, O'Callaghan, as is his method, is likely to wait until the last moment before revealing where Guided Tour will run.

He was less reserved about the next start for Grade 2 Lexington Stakes winner Keats, who hasn't raced since being part of a suicidal pace and injuring a foot in the Kentucky Derby. Keats will next race at Saratoga in the Aug. 25 King's Bishop, a Grade 1 seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds.

Another O'Callaghan-trained graded stakes winner, Tijiyr, chipped an ankle in the June 9 Manhattan Handicap and is almost ready to resume training. Tijiyr won the Explosive Bid at Fair Grounds this spring and finished third in the Manhattan. Dr. Larry Bramlage performed successful arthroscopic surgery shortly after the race and O'Callaghan hopes to Tijiyr will race again in the fall.

Baptize likely for American Derby

Pending a workout next week, Arlington Classic winner Baptize will return for the July 22 American Derby, the second leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old grass horses. The series culminates in the Grade 1 Secretariat on Arlington Million Day, Aug. 18.

Baptize worked a half-mile in 49 seconds Wednesday at Churchill. Ralph Nicks, trainer Bill Mott's Churchill assistant, said Baptize would work again Tuesday or Wednesday, and if all went well the colt would be entered in the American Derby.

Baptize battled an illness the week before he shipped in to win the Arlington Classic, but Nicks said the colt has completely recovered.

The Mott-trained King Cugat won the Arlington Classic last year when he was based at Churchill Downs, but unlike Baptize he went to train with Mott in New York after the win, skipped the American Derby, and came back in the Secretariat.

Touch Tone pointing to Jim Dandy

Trainer Ronny Werner said Thursday he was leaning toward running Touch Tone on Aug. 4 in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga rather than in the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. Touch Tone has won three of four career starts for Werner and owner Tom Durant. Last week he won the Iowa Derby by more than seven lengths.

"The Jim Dandy should come up a little lighter than the Haskell," Werner said. "We're going to be up there anyway."

Werner, who has never started a horse at Saratoga, has six stalls there this year. Besides Touch Tone, Werner's Saratoga horses include the unbeaten Lunar Bounty. Werner, who dominated 2-year-old racing at Keeneland this spring, has a few highly regarded unraced maidens that he plans on starting at Saratoga.

Evenly matched? You know it!

Ten fillies and mares were entered in the $55,000 William McGinley Handicap, the feature on a nine-race Saturday card that includes separate-pool wagering on the Virginia Derby. Arlington has no stakes races this weekend.

Three horses will start at the top weight of 115 pounds in the McGinley, which is run at one mile on dirt. They are Linda Love, Dashing Lesley, and Adam's Time. The weight spread between nine of the 10 entrants is three pounds, and, yes, this field is evenly matched.

Dashing Lesley won the Buick Distaff at Lone Star on April 28, then finished 10th on a boggy Lone Star turf course a month later and hasn't raced since. She is a logical contender for trainer Elliott Walden, whose barn has gone 0-for-13 so far this meet.

* Leading jockey Mark Guidry is riding at Calder on Saturday.