03/24/2005 1:00AM

'Boots' may wait off pace


CHICAGO - When the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet opened on Feb. 25, Chicago still was firmly in the grip of winter. Nights were well below freezing, daytime temperatures rarely reached 40, and the racetrack generally was frozen, hard, and fast.

It is not as though spring is in full bloom now - check back in May for that - but the days and nights are much warmer, and the racetrack could hardly be more different from the speedy winter highway seen early in the meet.

The Hawthorne track surface last week was as slow as one will encounter at a North American racing venue. A good horse would do well to run six furlongs in 1:12 and change; the slower ones were clocking anywhere from 1:15 to 1:17.

So, how applicable is the form from the fifth race here on March 6 to the featured sixth race on Saturday? Both are back for the Saturday feature, but who knows which members of this nine-horse field will take to the deep, tiring racetrack?

Both March 6 returnees are players in the Saturday race, but there are new faces to contend with, as well. Papa Fuse rises up after a comfortable entry-level allowance win Feb. 26, but he is unlikely to get the ideal trip that fueled that victory. Call Roy, a Kentucky shipper, exits a close fifth in a Feb. 11 Oaklawn Park race at this class level; Mr. Big Time, a five-time Hawthorne winner, finished a couple of lengths behind him that day.

In from Fair Grounds is the Illinois-bred Out for a Spin, who showed little in a grass sprint Feb. 26 in New Orleans, but is likely to improve. And finally there is Brian Dude, who, as a resident of the Charlie Vinci barn, automatically deserves consideration. Vinci, a Chicago veteran who has struggled in recent years, started a huge roll about 10 days ago, and enters this week's racing with a meet record of 18-7-3-5.

But one comes back to Boots Are Walking, who lost to his stablemate Ingles in the March 6 race. Trained by Bret Calhoun for the Barnett Stables, Boots Are Walking might be best as a one-run sprinter, but found himself pressing a hot pace from an inside post last time. Saturday, with a midpack draw, jockey Eddie Razo might let the speed slug it out before maneuvering his mount for a late run on the outside part of the track - the place to be of late during Hawthorne's spring thaw.