10/16/2006 11:00PM

All eyes on Rochester Cat in comeback

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CHICAGO - The third-level allowance horses and $40,000 claimers in the featured fourth race on Thursday at Hawthorne are pretty nice, the race fairly interesting. But later on the program, in a second-level sprint allowance for Illinois-breds, fans can see whether the high-level ability Rochester Cat flashed last spring has carried through an injury layoff and into the next phase of the gelding's career. If it has, Rochester Cat could emerge as a player in the Illinois-bred sprint stakes division.

He makes his comeback in race 7, and it was Rochester Cat's comeback race in the spring that turned heads. Thrice started at 2, Rochester Cat made his 2006 debut on March 4 and won an Illinois-bred maiden race by more than 13 lengths. He never was asked to run in the race, yet turned in an exceptionally sharp time for the conditions. Five weeks later, Rochester Cat beat overmatched foes in a sales stakes, but three weeks after that came a lousy performance in the Land of Lincoln Stakes, and poof - Rochester Cat was gone.

"He hurt his ankle the first week over there at Arlington," said trainer Andy Hansen. "It was like a high ankle sprain. But it might all have worked out for the best. He's matured a lot now. He's a lot easier to get off the bit, relax, and finish strongly. He's doing well. He's used to this surface. Hopefully, he'll show up on Thursday."

The featured fourth revolves about trainer Brian Williamson. Two horses, Tuffted and Albata, were claimed from Williamson this season - Tuffted last month, Albata in early summer - but Williamson himself has the horse to beat in race 4, Lampoon.

Lampoon moves from a statebred second-level allowance into open company, but has the foundation and talent to make the jump, especially at Hawthorne, where she scored a blowout entry-level allowance win in the spring and won a statebred-restricted race Sept. 24 by almost six lengths.

Lampoon might get a good trip sitting just behind likely front-runner Albata, but there's the chance that Albata might not stop. She, too, has an affinity for Hawthorne, and was a decent third here last time out after setting the pace on a tiring track. Creekers Surprise, who adds blinkers, also has a chance, as does Sara's Tune, who has excuses for her two most recent starts.