08/31/2006 12:00AM

Vance thankful for small Matron field


CHICAGO - Horseplayers looking for playable prices might crave big fields. It's a different story for a horse trainer.

"I always have a better feeling when I have to beat five or six than when I have to beat 10 or 12," said trainer Dave Vance.

The Vance-trained Maggie Slew has only to beat five to win Saturday's 1 1/8-mile Arlington Matron Handicap, and though Maggie Slew is a 3-year-old facing older horses, she beat eight of nine older rivals - finishing behind only favored Prospective Saint - in the Aug. 5 Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park.

The Grade 3, $150,000 Matron could become even more compact, since trainer Christine Janks, who has three for the race, named jockey Chris Emigh on both halves of the coupled entry of For Gillian and Stop a Train.

has yet to win a two-turn race, but the others all have their shortcomings, too. Take a Check, in from Maryland for trainer Dick Small, might be favored in the Matron, though she has won just twice in 15 starts the last two calendar years.

"She's always right there, but it's quite difficult to get her to win," said Small.

In her last two starts Take a Check ran into Fleet Indian, winner of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign last week at Saratoga. But though Take a Check takes a class drop Saturday, she has not won a two-turn race of any sort since 2004. Off since July 16, Take a Check does show two recent bullet works at Pimlico.

Sunset Kisses is the third of the Janks horses and might be her best chance. Loose on the lead through a slow pace in the Mariah's Storm, a local Matron prep, Sunset Kisses won for the third time this year.

But there should be no easy lead Saturday. Sea Siren often shows speed, and Maggie Slew dueled through an opening half-mile in 46.40 seconds in the Gardenia.

"She can probably relax if she has to," said Vance of Maggie Slew. "I think she's definitely a two-turn horse, and if you're going to make serious money, they've got to run around two turns."

A short field in this handicap - and light weights, too. Maggie Slew has only a handful of rivals to beat, and has only 112 pounds to carry. Jockey Randall Toups made that weight at Ellis, and is back again for the Matron.