09/08/2002 11:00PM

Zarb's Magic blazing hotter than ever at 9


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - At an age when most horses are clinging to a racing career, 9-year-old Zarb's Magic has a firm grip on his. Saturday at Arlington, in the 63rd start of an eight-year career, Zarb's Magic tied a 32-year-old track record, racing five furlongs in 57.61 seconds.

Then, just as quickly, it was over. Zarb's Magic not only is fast and game, he's smart and completely accustomed racing. When he hits the wire, that's that. Strides past the finish line, Zarb's Magic has shut down the engines and his gallop-out barely carries him onto the far turn.

Jockey Randy Meier "says it's like going from overdrive to hitting the brakes," said Lara Van Daren, assistant to trainer Louie Roussel, engineer of Zarb's Magic's rebirth.

Winner of the Arkansas Derby at age 3, Zarb's Magic, beset by injuries and eaten up by stomach ulcers, had fallen hard through the claiming ranks and had lost a $10,000 claiming race at Fair Grounds two winters ago when Roussel acquired him. Roussel, a longtime owner and trainer, has resources other claiming-horse owners only dream of, and he makes the most of them. He lavishes veterinary care on horses like Zarb's Magic and gives them time - time to let old wounds heal and ample recovery time between starts.

Roussel treated the ulcers, put Zarb's Magic on a light training regimen and quickly turned the gelding's form around last spring. And with six wins from eight starts this year, Zarb's Magic shows no sign of decline.

And thank goodness for that. Just as Zarb's Magic knows where the finish is, he knows when he's lost. Van Daren said Zarb's Magic sulks for days after he loses, refusing even his beloved carrots. Eventually, he perks up, and after a few weeks he's ready to do it all again.

"As soon as he gets his Lasix before a race, he knows it's time," Van Daren said. "When we put his vet wraps on he gets all antsy, but then he'll go back to sleep again. He walks over to the track like he's 20 years old." And then he explodes from the gate like a horse half his age.

"I'm happy for him and I'm happy for the public," Roussel said. "Did you hear them clapping when he won? People don't do that for claiming races."

For this one, they do.

City Fear may run here or in Jerome

Roussel has a much younger horse, City Fear, for Arlington's Wednesday feature, a third-level allowance race with a $75,000 claiming option. City Fear will face a field of seven - if he runs.

Roussel said both City Fear and Tonyspal Craig, an impressive overnight stakes winner here last month, are nominated to this weekend's Jerome Handicap at Belmont. Whether one or both of them ships to New York, Roussel said, will depend on how strong a race the Jerome shapes up to be.

City Fear has won 3 of 5 starts, including two in a row. After regressing early in this meet, he was back on his game July 27 with a 3 1/4-length win over Track Boss, who returned to win a tough allowance race in his next start.

If City Fear scratches, favoritism could go to any number of horses. Andelegend was fourth to Tonyspal Craig in his last start; Ask the Lord is 2 for 2 on the Arlington main track; and Jerry Hollendorfer has a pair of contenders, Ship Shape and Chinkapin.

Decision pending on Include spot

Trainer Bud Delp said the handicap star Include probably would be nominated to the Sept. 29 Washington Park Handicap, the local prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Delp said he will choose between the Washington Park, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Meadowlands Cup for Include's next start.

"He'll breeze Wednesday and breeze next week, and then we'll decide on a race," Delp said Sunday from Maryand.

Include comes off a disappointing effort as the heavy favorite in the Grade 2 Iselin at Monmouth, where he finished sixth. The Iselin stands in stark contrast to the top-class form Include has shown the last two seasons, but Delp said Include continues to train well, and that he could find no serious problems with the horse after the race.

"He's 100 percent sound," Delp said. "He's got to win the next one to run in the Breeders' Cup."

Spectacular Bid 1-2 to prep for Breeders' Cup

The top two finishers from Saturday's Spectacular Bid Stakes are headed to the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, the local prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Davey Duggan, assistant trainer to Eoin Harty, said the Spectacular Bid winner, Sharp Impact, will be pointed for the Futurity, provided he trains well the next three weeks. Sharp Impact will be joined in the race by his stablemate Anasheed, an impressive winner of a one-mile maiden race here.

Wiggins, the improving Illinois-bred colt who rallied for second in the Spectacular Bid, also is headed to the Futurity, according to his trainer and co-owner, Ken Spraggins.