10/05/2005 11:00PM

Another typically brutal test - for horseplayers


CHICAGO - Watching races at Hawthorne this week, with a parade of longshots coming in, one wonders how much to apply logic during the handicapping process, and how much some other art.

Voodoo? Numerology? Animal sacrifice?

Don't try the latter at home, kids, but still, it would be wonderful to somehow, some way throw some order over the ongoing events at this meet.

Sorry. It's not getting any easier in the Saturday feature, race 9 on a typically horse-packed 10-race card. The feature, a one-mile grass race for fourth-level allowance horses or $50,000 to $60,000 claimers, drew a full field of 12, and the race is not going to easily yield a winner.

First turn to Lacer, who hails from the slow and steady shed row of trainer Charlie Livesay. Lacer is 6, and thanks to Livesay's patience, he is in the midst of an excellent season, with 2 wins and 2 places from his 4 2005 starts. Last time out, in the $42,000 John Henry Stakes at Arlington, he finished second, beaten only a neck by Home of Stars. Lacer handles the mile trip, has won at Arlington, and is well drawn in post 3. If it all seems to add up to a logical winner - be afraid, very afraid.

Trainer Walter Bindner said Shiloh Bound seemed ready for a decent race Sept. 10, his first start back from a seven-month break, but Shiloh Bound showed nothing close to his best, finishing seventh in the John Henry. He can be expected to improve on Saturday. A winner in 4 of his 9 starts, Shiloh Bound is a natural miler whose positional speed suits the general Hawthorne grass course profile. He will need to break well under Shane Laviolette, however, with post 9 and a short run to the first turn.

Beau Classic's second in the Sept. 5 Labor Day Stakes at Mountaineer Park was obscured by a seventh-place finish Sept. 19 at Great Lakes Downs, but the Great Lakes race came on dirt, the Labor Day on turf, and Beau Classic - one of two entered by trainer Gerald Bennett - also would appear to have a shot.

But don't stop with those few. Come on Jazz has had trouble breaking through with wins; Prodigus seems to want more distance than this; Slew Slayer and Alpha Capo exit wins, but are stuck with far outside posts. The others would appear to be overmatched - but things at Hawthorne are not always as they appear.