08/18/2005 12:00AM

Whimsy should give trainer a lift in Oaks

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Whimsy (above) wins the Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows in July, while Miss Matched wins the Ribbon Handicap at Arlington in May. Last time the two met, Miss Matched beat Whimsy, and they face each other again in Saturday's Arlington Oaks.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Late Sunday afternoon the trainer Mike Stidham went through an hour of acute misery. At 4:57 p.m. Eastern he watched, via simulcast monitor at Mountaineer Park, as Culinary, favored at 4-5 in the $200,000 Monmouth Oaks, did a face plant leaving the gate. She wound up a distant fourth. Fifty-seven minutes later, the bell rang for the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, and Stidham also had the favorite, 3-1 Devilment. This one got out of the gate okay but rushed up between horses, got involved in a speed duel on a tiring track, and faded to ninth.

"It all felt as bad as possible," Stidham said.

A new weekend, a new favorite - and a possible salve for Stidham's nasty Sunday experience. Whimsy goes Saturday in the $100,000 Arlington Oaks, and it will take bad luck or a form reversal to keep her out of the mix. Whimsy was one of eight entered in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks. Ritzy and Easily, both trained by Carl Nafzger, are coupled in the wagering. The Oaks goes as race 9.

defeated Whimsy in an overnight sprint stakes early in this meet, and should rebound Saturday from a subpar third in her most recent start. Eyes on Eddy won the overnight stakes prep for the Oaks by 10 lengths, and this past spring finished a good second to Summerly in the Silverbulletday Stakes. But Whimsy is the sharpest horse going in the Oaks, a seven-week break since an open-lengths win in the Iowa Oaks all part of the game plan.

"We've done plenty with her," Stidham said. "She's fit, she's either good enough or she's not."

, bred and owned by the Pin Oak Farm of Josephine Abercrombie, won her first three starts before finishing third behind Miss Matched here in May. Stidham pinned the loss on his decision to turn Whimsy back to six furlongs and, indeed, Whimsy has excelled since being stretched out to two turns. She won the Panther, the Iowa Oaks prep, by more than four lengths, and the Oaks itself by almost three over the solid filly Cee's Irish. A mile and one-sixteenth posed no problem, and Stidham guesses the 1 1/8 miles on Saturday won't either.

"The way she's won her last two races, I go into it assuming she'll handle it," he said.

She's handled pretty much everything so far. Her 5 wins in 6 starts have come at four tracks and four different distances. "No matter where we've put her, she's run hard every time," Stidham said.

The kind of horse that can turn your luck around.