12/22/2009 1:00AM

Blinkers may bring out Marilyn's Guy's talent


STICKNEY, Ill. - To freeze, or not to freeze: That is the question handicappers must ask during winter racing months at Hawthorne.

A frozen Hawthorne racing surface produces times as fast as imaginable in a Thoroughbred. Disregard the class of horse: Fractional times in six-furlong sprints are going to be 21s and 44s, and the horses setting those splits are likely not to stop on a deep-frozen Hawthorne day.

When the mercury rises above freezing, no such conditions exist. And wouldn't you know: The forecast high Wednesday is 33 degrees - no man's land in terms of handicapping for a winter bias.

So, will the best horse - rather than whichever horse makes the early lead - win the featured eighth race at Hawthorne? Maybe. But determining which of these nine steeds qualifies as "best" seems not so simple.

The race is carded for 1 1/16 miles, and is open to second-level allowance horses or $30,000 claimers. Marilyn's Guy has shown as much talent as any of his eight rivals, and with only 10 starts, has raced fewer times than any of them. Trained by Chris Block, Marilyn's Guy turned in a tremendous performance here last March, winning a maiden route race by more than 13 lengths. But Marilyn's Guy still has not run back to that race, losing six in a row before finally clearing his first allowance condition on Nov. 22 at Hawthorne. Marilyn's Guy ran somewhat erratically through the stretch that day, and will race in blinkers for the first time Wednesday, lending substance to the opinion that the horse may still have more to offer.

While unlikely to go off as high as his 6-1 morning-line odds, Marilyn's Guy might wind up third betting choice behind Ravensworth and Badger Bo. Ravensworth, who starts under the $30,000 claiming option, has finished third or better in eight of his 11 starts in 2009, and exits a close second in a second-level Churchill Downs allowance race over 1 1/2 miles on turf. He also has run well in shorter dirt races, but Ravensworth rallies from far back, and is more likely to fall short than break through.

Badger Bo has had a good Hawthorne meet, with two seconds and a third, but seems vulnerable to regression after three consecutive high-end efforts.

The Wednesday feature should have a fair pace, with Fort Apache, House of Usher, and All in Slew likely to try for the front. Want to know if they're likely to come back to the rest of the field? Check the thermometer.