10/11/2008 12:00AM

Baird brings home 19-1 shocker


STICKNEY, Ill. - Jockey E.T. Baird may be a Chicagoan by history, but he is by no means a Hawthorne regular these days. Still, even with just 4 winners from 15 Hawthorne mounts in 2008, Baird has managed to wind up in the thick of things here. In April, he won the Illinois Derby on the longshot Recapturetheglory, and on Saturday, he rode Strait of Mewsina to a 19-1 surprise in the Grade 3, $250,000 Hawthorne Derby.

Adriano, beaten as the 1-2 favorite, had no visible excuse for a disappointing performance. Adriano tracked a solid early pace and made the lead in midstretch, but he had no final punch, and wound fourth in a five-horse blanket finish.

Strait of Mewsina, on the other hand, came home nicely. Dropping back right out of the gate to last, as is his habit, Strait of Mewsina ($41.40) gathered momentum on the far turn, and even though Baird had a hole close on him at about the three-sixteenths pole, Strait of Mewsina found acceleration to win anyway. Baird wheeled him out at about the furlong pole, brushing briefly with Snoose Goose, whose rider, Chris Emigh, claimed foul. One fairly brief stewards' review later, and Strait of Mewsina's number stopped flashing.

That was when trainer Larry Rivelli and owner Richard Ravin stopped pacing and began exulting. Ravin purchased Strait of Mewsina from Ireland last year at age 2, and the horse came with a significant price tag and high hopes. He won his United States debut at Keeneland last fall, but finished 10th, seventh, and ninth in his next three starts. Strait of Mewsina showed some signs of life in late summer, and his sixth-place finish last month in a Kentucky Downs allowance race was a throwout. Still, this was by far the best race of Strait of Mewsina's career.

"He needs pace," Rivelli said, and in the Hawthorne Derby, he got it. Robscarvic ranged up to take over from Mr. Mischief through a half-mile in 47.72 seconds, a solid split for nine furlongs on this course. Strait of Mewsina trailed the field into the far turn, but since Rivelli added blinkers three races ago, Baird said he has not had to ride the colt just to get him to keep up with the pack.

"This was the race I'd been waiting for," Rivelli said. "A mile and an eighth, and straight 3-year-olds."

Strait of Mewsina won by a neck, and was timed in 1:49.98 over a firm course. Cherokee Triangle came between horses to nab second, a head in front of Snoose Goose, who edged Adriano and Mr. Mischief.

Alvarado, Labar make all the right moves

Jockey Junior Alvarado has started the Hawthorne meet slowly after a strong Arlington Park season, but Alvarado was all over the Mary Keim Illinois Owners Stakes late Saturday at Hawthorne with longshot Labar, who blew up the toteboard at odds of more than 30-1.

Far behind the early leaders in the one-mile grass race, Labar commenced a rally on the far turn and didn't let up until she had crossed the winter three-quarters of a length in front of Royal Leah. Alvarado found one hole and niftily wheeled Labar to the outside in midstretch, and the 5-year-old mare, running the race of her life, did the rest.

Claimed in June 2007 for $25,000, Labar won a pair of allowance races this year, one on Polytrack and one on dirt, but coming into Saturday's race, she had lost all 10 of her grass races. Labar put an end to that streak, winning for owner George Bates and trainer Ricky Lindsay. Lindsay won a race on Friday with a 38-1 shot named Neosho Red.

Labar paid $63.40 to win, and was timed in 1:36.60 for a firm-turf mile. Royal Leah finished second, and Love Handles third.