05/08/2004 12:00AM

Blue collar closing

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The thermometer was climbing toward 80 degrees Saturday afternoon at Hawthorne. It felt like Arlington weather.

Tuesday's nine-race program here brings down the curtain on the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet, with the action shifting to Arlington Park on Friday. The meet has had its moments - Ten Most Wanted in the National Jockey Club Handicap, Pollard's Vision's Illinois Derby - but goes out on the same working-class note that defines it: The closing-day feature is an entry-level allowance at six furlongs.

In it, Salty Sailor should score the second win of his career. It is overdue. Salty Sailor won at first asking way back in December 2002. Most recently, he raced two-wide on an inside-speed biased track and could not pass his pace rival, Never Give In, who won by a nose. There is other speed in Tuesday's race, but Salty Sailor has drawn well outside of it, and in a pinch, he can rate a length off the lead.

Closers B Rules and Flopper could make a race of it if Salty Sailor, the likely favorite, cannot finish the job.

Beret's race over quickly

Beret's 2004 debut was over about the same time it began. Two strides into the $40,000 Nicole Stakes here on Saturday, Beret stumbled badly, sending jockey Chris Emigh over her head. Beret acted sensibly, galloping once around the oval before Hawthorne's assistant general manager and jack of all trades, Jim Miller, snagged her at the finish line.

Meanwhile, the win money that poured in late on Blue Sky Baby was well directed. Making her first start since November, Blue Sky Baby scored a comfortable win for jockey Eddie Razo, who rode for trainer Becky Maker.

Herculated preps for Dixie

Herculated, who is scheduled to leave mid-week for a start in the Grade 2 Dixie on the Preakness undercard, did his major work for the race on Saturday at Arlington, breezing six furlongs in 1:12.20.

There was only one other work at the distance, that by Herculated's stablemate, Native Annie, who was timed in 1:12.80. Native Annie is possible for the Black-Eyed Susan, Friday at Pimlico. Both horses are trained by Mike Stidham.

* There was a small retirement party here Friday for a very old trainer. Jim Eckrosh is hanging up his stopwatch at the bright age of 97.