04/20/2004 11:00PM

Another Dollase entry looks unbeatable


CHICAGO - Wally Dollase is plundering the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne stakes schedule. Ten Most Wanted - 1-10 early in the wagering - busted open the National Jockey Club Handicap here last weekend. Saturday, it is supposed to be his stablemate Bare Necessities's turn. She was 3-5 when she won the Sixty Sails last season at Hawthorne Race Course, and a similarly short price looms in this year's edition.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Sixty Sails was drawn Tuesday, and besides another strong California-based, Dollase-trained favorite, six were entered. The field, from the rail out, looks like this: Retroactive, Bare Necessities, Mavoreen, Sue's Good News, Julie's Prize, La Reason, and Allspice.

"She looks like a standout, doesn't she?" trainer Steve Hobby said. Hobby trains Sue's Good News, but he was talking about Bare Necessities, third and second in her last two starts, both Grade 1's.

"For $250,000, you could be happy with second," Hobby said. "But I still think I've got a nice filly. I'm not conceding yet."

Hobby is a hardened backstretch veteran. Call him middle-aged, but look for him galloping horses during training hours. He has nursed old warriors such as Chindi through long, productive careers. Yet, Sue's Good News has tried Hobby. Her talent was obvious: She won her career debut last spring by almost 10 lengths, and won three more without feeling the whip.

Then the fun began. Sue's Good News started tying up - think full-body muscle cramps - and was found to have allergies. She put things together and notched a satisfying victory in the Grade 3 Singapore Plate last August at Arlington, but that was the bright spot. She finished her 3-year-old season with a seventh and a sixth, and started this year with a distant fifth in the $50,000 Pippin at Oaklawn, a race in which she tied up again.

Hobby kept tinkering, and Sue's Good News looked something more like herself when she finished a close third April 4 in the Bayakoa at Oaklawn. Surprisingly, Sue's Good News wound up on the lead that day, and she grew weary after setting a quick pace. Hobby said Sue's Good News was too fresh for her own good.

"Right now, we're doing pretty good," he said. "She's almost training like a normal horse."

'Pepper' returns from severe illness

Pass the Pepper, back from a brush with death, makes her first start in almost 10 months on Friday at Hawthorne. She has speed, the rail, and the talent to help jockey E.T. Baird out of a meet-long slump.

She turned 5 in January, but Pass the Pepper has made only nine starts, emblematic of a checkered career that hit bottom last summer. Pass the Pepper was in training at Arlington when she was struck with a case of founder, a foot ailment that can kill a horse. With round-the-clock care, Pass the Pepper recovered, and she recuperated well enough to earn another shot at racing.

Here she is, seeking her seventh victory. In six starts at six furlongs - the distance of Friday's fifth-race allowance - Pass the Pepper has five wins and a second. Michelle Boyce, who trains Pass the Pepper for Cherrywood Racing Stables, has put a strong foundation under her filly: Her three most recent breezes, two of them bullet works, have been at six furlongs.

And Boyce has stuck with Baird, Pass the Pepper's regular rider, despite his recent struggles. A solid Chicago journeyman, Baird has gotten on few live horses recently, and has managed just two wins at the meet.

This could make three, since Pass the Pepper has the speed to make the lead on a racing surface that generally favored speed last week. Smoke Chaser, a nice filly in her own right, makes her first start of the season, and first since moving to the barn of trainer Dale Bennett. She and Sarah Jade, fourth in her only 2004 start, are Pass the Pepper's main challengers.

Grass prep for dirt horse

Things have been humming along for trainer Chris Block's highly rated grass horse Mystery Giver, who remains on target for the Grade 1 Early Times Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. But Block is having less luck with Apt to Be, who had his best season last year.

Block had hoped to prep Apt to Be for the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap at Arlington - a race the horse won last year - in a Hawthorne sprint allowance, but that race didn't come close to attracting sufficient entries, and was scrapped. Instead, Block will shift Apt to Be to Mystery Giver's terrain - the grass course - in order to get his season started.

"There's a race in the book here on grass," said Block. "It's either that or Churchill. He's ready to run. He's not a two-turn horse, and he's really not as good on turf, but it's to get the proper air into him before May 29," the date of the Hanshin.

Apt to Be worked seven furlongs in 1:28.80 on Monday, while Mystery Giver will have a maintenance-style half-mile breeze here Sunday, Block said. Mystery Giver won the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds in his last start, when he was still trained by Block's winter substitute, Richie Scherer.

Hot apprentices

Apprentice riders Cruz Contreras and Timothy Thornton continue to do well at this meet. Contreras, who through Monday had a five-win lead over Eddie Razo in the jockey standings, won five races on Monday's nine-race program. Thornton followed with four wins on Tuesday.

On the other end of the spectrum, veteran rider Randy Meier - mired in a meet-long downturn - has changed agents. Jimmy Ernesto now is handling his business.