12/10/2008 1:00AM

Boyce thinking Ava Mae has family trait


STICKNEY, Ill. - Ava Mae just finished her 2-year-old season last weekend, winning for the first time in her career when she captured the $107,650 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante. And already trainer Michele Boyce is casting an eye to next year, when she expects Ava Mae to be an even better prospect.

"She's going to the farm very shortly, but it won't be a terribly long downtime," Boyce said. "I'd like to have her ready for the first of May, or even earlier."

Illinois-bred Ava Mae is by Best of Luck, a sire of modest accomplishment, but her dam, Perfectlywonderful, ranks among the top active Illinois broodmares. Perfectlywonderful has gotten six foals to race, and six to win, and Ava Mae's full brother, Best of Buddies, won the 2006 Hawthorne Derby.

Boyce thinks Ava Mae, a homebred owned by three members of the Barr family (thus the stable name, Barr Three), may turn out comparable to her older brother - Illinois-bred, but capable of tackling open turf-stakes competition. Ava Mae had a tough trip and nearly won her career debut in a grass route, and though the local Debutante was on dirt, Boyce little doubts Ava Mae's future lies on turf.

Boyce said the horse she feared in the Debutante was Happy Henrietta, a filly who also had been bred and owned by Barr Three, and who had won her maiden at Arlington while still trained by Boyce. Happy Henrietta subsequently was sold privately along with some other Barr Three homebreds, and though a decent third Saturday, she was not quite able to keep up with the Barr Three filly still in the Boyce stable.

Nine lined up for Edgar Futurity

This week, it is the boys' turn, with the $100,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity - the last stakes race on the Chicago calendar - scheduled for Saturday.

Saturday's program was drawn on Wednesday, and the Edgar drew a field of nine Illinois-breds. While there are several decent horses entered, the 1 1/16-mile race has a potential standout in Summer's Empire, who has developed rapidly this fall for trainer Tony Mitchell and owner-breeder Richard Otto. Summer's Empire lost three one-turn races on Polytrack, but won his maiden Oct. 23 at Hawthorne in both his two-turn and dirt debut, and was much more impressive capturing an open entry-level allowance here Nov. 19.

Weather turning problematic

December weather has begun catching up with the Hawthorne meet. The track had to cancel the last three races last Friday because of wintry conditions, and was forced to cancel training on Tuesday in order to prepare the racing surface for Wednesday's program.

The problem this week was not cold, but warmth: The temperature rose above freezing Monday, and rain came. In order to avoid a badly frozen wet track, Hawthorne's maintenance crew had to spend Tuesday floating the water out of the surface before the mercury dipped below freezing again later in the day. That strategy worked, and horses were back in regular training on a frozen but safe track Wednesday morning. Forecast for this weekend, however, are unseasonably warm temperatures, meaning the troublesome freeze-thaw pattern is likely to continue.

Governor's arrest has impact

The Tuesday arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on charges that he attempted to sell the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama ripples into the horse racing industry, since both houses of the Illinois legislature have passed a bill that extends a racing-beneficial 3-percent impact fee on northern Illinois casinos for three years.

At the time of his arrest, Blagojevich had neither signed nor vetoed the bill, leaving it in limbo this week. If a governor fails to take action on a bill within 60 days, however, it automatically becomes law.

The Illinois racing industry still is awaiting the distribution of some $80 million in casino revenue that has been held in an account during legal challenges. That money will be released - and more impact-fee money start to flow - if the U.S. Supreme Court decides, as is widely expected, not to hear the casinos' appeal.

* Hawthorne is holding a two-day handicapping contest on Saturday and Sunday Dec. 13 and 14. The contest offers a $25,000 grand prize and entry into the Horse Player World Series. The contest requires no entry fee, and contestants begin with a $250 bankroll of their own money on both days. Players keep whatever winnings they accumulate during the contest.