07/14/2004 12:00AM

Welcome back, Wasabi Cat


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Kenny McPeek has been one of the more active Kentucky-based trainers running at Arlington Park, with 23 starts this meet, but like any horseman with a Kentucky string, McPeek automatically adopts a Churchill-first approach from early May through late June. Now, the Kentucky horses, especially those not suitable for an August trip to Saratoga, are making their way Chicago-ward. Wasabi Cat relocated less than two weeks ago, and he might be just the horse for Arlington's eighth race on Friday.

The eighth is on turf and carded for entry-level allowance horses or $50,000 3-year-old claimers, and the race shares top billing with the fourth, a second-level statebred grass allowance.

has been here before. In fact, he began his career at Arlington last summer, nearly winning a turf maiden race in September after a dismal dirt debut. He broke through last November at Churchill, and twice ran well enough to have cleared this first allowance condition: Once, he ran into a horse named Up Anchor, a colt good enough to have won an overnight grass stakes earlier this meet; and Jan. 4, he was beaten a half-length by Prince Arch, one of the best 3-year-old grass horses in the country, his distant third in last weekend's Virginia Derby notwithstanding.

Wasabi Cat has post 10 in a one-mile race, and there is not much room between the start and the first turn. But if you are going to trust a rider to figure out a trip, who better than Rene Douglas? He has rolled through the last three weeks here, and went into this week's action with 56 victories, 18 more than his closest pursuer.

In Crusader Jo, Douglas also has a live mount in the fourth race, though this is a horse who has had trouble achieving a breakthrough. It was November 2002 when he cleared his first Illinois-bred allowance condition, and he has worked ever since trying to take the next step. Crusader Jo might just need a bit more luck. He is a horse devoid of early speed who runs best with a sharp pace in front of him, but has rarely found such a circumstance. It happened last October at Hawthorne, but a horse named King Magic ran wild and never came back to the field. Friday, there is pace in the one, two, three, and eight holes - things have a way of working that way for Douglas at Arlington.