11/09/2006 12:00AM

Against foes' wishes, Wiggins will run


CHICAGO - Horsemen throughout the country take at least a passing gander at the Breeders' Cup program, and Chicago people surely noticed Wiggins's name among the entries in the Ack Ack Handicap, one of two stakes on Churchill Downs's Breeders' Cup undercard. Those with an older horse being pointed to Saturday's High Alexander Handicap were hoping - really hoping - Wiggins would actually start in the race.

"I saw he was in last weekend, and we were just praying he'd run down there in Kentucky," said George King, who trains High Alexander starter Zippy Slew.

No such luck. Wiggins was scratched from the Ack Ack in favor of a trip to Chicago, and he is the most accomplished horse entered on a festival of Illinois-bred stakes racing Saturday at Hawthorne. There are six stakes each worth about $100,000 - depending on the number of starters - including a pair of

2-year-old races showcasing the brightest young statebred talent, plus sprints and routes for older females and males.

The High Alexander is the older-male route race, carded for 1 1/16 miles, and Wiggins won it last year by 4 3/4 lengths. Wiggins, 6, has been a good horse on this circuit since his 2-year-old season, when Kenny Spraggins trained him. Sold privately, Wiggins then went to trainer Tony Granitz, with whom he stayed a couple of years before his owners - William Pacella, Joseph Rizza, and Ronald Schwed - left in search of bigger game than Illinois-breds. They transferred Wiggins to Kentucky-, New York-, and Florida-based trainer Dale Romans. Wiggins never did win the big one, but he has at times been mildly competitive with Grade 1 types. His most recent start, on June 17, produced a close fifth-place finish in the Stephen Foster.

Wiggins came back to Chicago during the spring, too, making short work of seven rivals in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap. Romans can read the form and see how Wiggins has recently dominated statebreds, and he said he feels confident that he has Wiggins ready despite a layoff of almost five months. Not even the prospect of the deep, laboring, and sometimes tricky Hawthorne surface daunts Romans.

"It may be deep, but they've all got to run over the same thing, and he runs really well fresh," Romans said last week at his Churchill barn.

Wiggins's opposition is at least decent, but let's face it: If Wiggins fires, he wins. Barely Union Scale has shown glimpses of being a really good two-turn dirt horse, a fact somewhat obscured by a dismal last-out performance on yielding Hawthorne turf. Royko is in good form right now, as is Zippy Slew - Wiggins, they are not.