11/03/2006 12:00AM

Bad news, locals: Wiggins to return

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It's time for Wiggins to make another pilgrimage to Hawthorne Race Course. And when he comes, it's not just for the refreshing winter air at the gritty Chicago track.

Since being moved from the barn of Tony Granitz into that of Dale Romans early in the summer of 2005, Wiggins only twice has ventured north from Romans's Kentucky base to take advantage of his Illinois-bred status. He won the Milwaukee Avenue last April by four lengths and the High Alexander about a year ago by nearly five, and Romans said Friday morning that Wiggins will return to defend his title in that race.

Wiggins was entered in the Ack Ack Handicap on the Breeders' Cup undercard, but Romans said he intended to scratch and race in Chicago instead.

Wiggins, 6, has made almost $750,000 in an excellent career, and he figures to be a solid favorite next Saturday in the High Alexander, one of several statebred stakes on Illinois Day. Wiggins last raced June 17 in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, and though he finished fifth, he was beaten only two lengths. Freshened through the rest of the summer, Wiggins has four strong recent workouts for his comeback, and Romans has unbridled confidence in his horse right now.

"Yeah, he's doing real good," Romans said. "Fresh, he runs really well. I like my chances up there."

Werner to ship in 3 or 4

Wiggins is not the only Churchill-based horse with designs on Illinois Day Saturday at Hawthorne. Trainer Ronny Werner said he plans to ship at least three and perhaps four horses for the series of statebred races. Coming for sure are Cheyenne Spirit, who will run in the two-turn race for older females; Storm Rolling In, who goes in the sprint race for older females; and Rich N Clever, a 2-year-old filly who debuted with an impressive Arlington win before running poorly in allowance company at Hawthorne. Possible for the older male sprint is Silver Titan.

Not included in the Werner contingent is the best horse among his Illinois-bred stock, Rich Fantasy, who won the Showtime Deb on last fall's Illinois Day, and has proven competitive in open stakes company this year. Rich Fantasy had a minor setback, Werner said, but should resume training "in a couple weeks."

Hospitalized Fires to ride this week

Earlie Fires still was in the hospital Friday morning, kept overnight so medical experts could make sure there were no lasting effects from Fires being knocked unconscious in an ugly spill Thursday at Hawthorne. Apparently there were not, and Fires not only was itching to get out of the hospital, but raring to get back on horses, too.

"I'll probably get back Wednesday," Fires said. "I'd come out riding today if they'd let me, but I guess they want me to wait a few days."

The 59-year-old Fires was riding in mid-pack in a maiden claiming sprint Thursday when the horse on the lead broke down. Fires said he tried to steer his mount outside and clear of trouble, but found himself hemmed in, and then - wham!

"I just rear-ended him," Fires said. "I knew what was going to happen - you go flying. That always happens when you hit them like that. It's been three years since I've fallen, but I've been in a lot of spills."

Jockey Jesse Campbell, riding the horse that broke down, hurt his arm when he fell, but his injuries don't appear serious, either.

Kirby closing in on Tomillo

Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a trainers' race at Hawthorne. After jumping out to a big early lead, Tom Tomillo is steadily being reeled in by Frank Kirby, and after Thursday's races, Kirby trailed Tomillo by only 3 wins, 21 to 18.

"I'm just trying to win my share," said Kirby. "I'm not pointing at the title so much, though it'd be nice to win it."

Kirby won a race Thursday with a filly that looks like a nice grass horse, Ciao. Ciao might have won her career debut if not for some trouble, and she was easily best in a two-turn turf maiden race this time.

"I think that horse has some real ability on the turf," Kirby said. "I think she's got a pretty good future."

Kirby said Ciao could show up next in a turf race at Churchill.

* Blue Knott, the starter on the Chicago circuit, reports that his predecessor, Jimmy Kinnard, died last week at 86 in Cazadero, Calif. Kinnard, who retired six years ago, was the starter at Hawthorne and Arlington for "at least 40 years," Knott said.

o The Sunday feature at Hawthorne is for third-level female allowance horses or $40,000 claimers at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.