11/05/2007 12:00AM

Bombs away on Illinois-bred day

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Hawthorne horse players have come to expect the unexpected, but even at a track where chaos often gets the better of order, this past weekend's racing was unpredictable. The 20 races Saturday and Sunday produced two winning favorites, and no sequence of races proved less predictable than Saturday's six Illinois-bred stakes.

In those races, there was nary a favorite to be found, and the shortest win price on a stakes winner was the $13.80 He's Hammered paid winning the Buck's Boy for older male route horses. Even that was strange, since He's Hammered had gone winless since 2004 and had been regularly losing in $25,000 sprint claimers this season. In other words, his odds could easily have gone much higher.

The average win mutuel in the six stakes checked in at a robust $31.20, and even if one excluded the sequence's real bomber, the $90.40 winner Dakota Ridge, win payoffs averaged almost $20.

Dakota Ridge had been a huge longshot when winning his career debut here last month, and his sudden success came out of the blue, even for trainer John Wainwright.

"I'd have to say he has surprised me," Wainwright said just after Dakota Ridge, a son of the obscure sire Kugelis, won the Sun Power Stakes. Wainwright tossed credit to Fairmount Park-based trainer Eddie Essenpreis, who did most of the work getting Dakota Ridge ready.

The Sun Power also produced some controversy. Unbeaten Chief What was the race's even-money favorite as the horses were loaded, but Chief What broke through the gate before the start, and dragged jockey Diego Sanchez nearly a quarter-mile down the backstretch before being corralled by an outrider. The other 10 horses remained in their stalls as Chief What was turned around and ponied back to the gate - a process that took several minutes - and after a once-over from the state veterinarian, he was reloaded, and the field sent on their way.

Chief What, unsurprisingly, never showed any run, and finished ninth. Rocket Rodd, the second choice, came flying out of the gate, but tired badly and wound up 10th. Trainer Jim DiVito said Chief What emerged from the race with only scratches.

Whether the horse had a fair chance after the prerace incident is another story.

Meier finds age no obstacle

Picking up the mount on Dakota Ridge for the Sun Power was Randy Meier, whose position near the top of the rider standings is at least as unexpected as that of Tim Thornton, who held a slim lead among jockeys with 34 wins here through Sunday.

Meier rode the 4,000th winner of his career late in the Arlington season. He turns 54 next year, but he already has ridden 177 races this meet, third only to Thornton and Chris Emigh. Meier booted home his 32nd winner of the meet on A Great Hunt in Sunday's nightcap.

Another statebred scramble up next

They're back. Those bedeviling Illinois-bred second-level allowance sprinters have made it onto another Hawthorne program, this time as the main event in Wednesday's sixth race. And they look as inscrutable as ever.

Variant scored a 1 1/2-length victory on Oct. 16, the last time this division convened, and several behind him that day are back for Wednesday's sixth. The returnees include Dancing Saints, beaten almost 17 lengths as the 8-5 favorite that day, as well as Fielding, who finished third at odds of 32-1.

Hard to say what befell Dancing Saints, but he's a front-end type of horse that may get early pressure from Glory to Spare. And the pick to break through with a rare win is Fielding. He faded late in the stretch last time out, but turns back from 6o1/2 to six furlongs, with a chance to move at least slightly forward now.

Also of note are Cure, who exits an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance win, and Southern Vision, whose last start came April 20 in a race won by Mighty Rule, winner of the Lightning Jet Handicap here Saturday.