02/25/2010 12:00AM

Brueggemann looks to keep hot start going


STICKNEY, Ill. - Stakes racing in Chicago still lies far beyond the horizon, with the first 2010 stakes race - the Illinois Derby - scheduled for April 3 at Hawthorne. But Hawthorne, still in a wintry grip, managed to fill a second-level two-turn allowance race also open to $30,000 claimers, the headliner on Saturday's program.

The race pits one Chicago veteran, Roger Brueggemann, who already has been plenty busy this meet, against another, Chris Block, who has started one horse this Hawthorne season. Brueggemann, who is among the meet leaders with five winners through Wednesday, sends out Top Echelon, and the Block barn has an Illinois-bred named Weggie for this open allowance.

Weggie, a 4-year-old by Behrens, came along slowly but steadily in 2009. A winner in 1 of his first 14 starts, Weggie finished last year winning 2 of his last 5, and the way he finished off his 2009 campaign at Hawthorne - with a second and a win - made it seem like Weggie had found his niche running long on dirt, rather than on synthetic or turf. Weggie logged three workouts in February and might be ready to pick up where he left off in 2009.

Top Echelon raced twice in Florida this winter for a different trainer but is back with Brueggemann, who is having his typically productive early-season run at Hawthorne. Stretching out from one-turn races, Top Echelon should be prominently placed in the Saturday feature but could wind up dueling for the lead with at least two other horses. Weggie would like that.

Razo riding ice-cold early on

Seasoned Chicago reinsman Eddie Razo expected to be wintering at Oaklawn Park again in 2010, but injuries he suffered in an early November spill at Hawthorne forced a change of plans, and for the first time in several years, Razo is riding in Chicago in February. So far, that has not worked out so well: Through Wednesday's races, Razo had been blanked after 20 rides here.

"A lot of the people I ride for went to Oaklawn," Razo said Thursday. "A lot of horses I've ridden just aren't ready yet."

Razo fractured his pelvis and pulled his groin when he hit the ground in November. He said his injuries have completely healed now, and Razo expects his business to pick up considerably beginning next month.

Younger riders Tanner Riggs and Tim Thornton already are going strong. Through Wednesday, Riggs, the leading rider at the 2009-10 fall and winter meet, had won 11 races, and Thornton 10. Hawthorne had run only 56 races this meeting.

Magana moves south to Florida

Hector Magana still works for Richard and Karen Papiese's Midwest Thoroughbreds, but you will not find Magana listed as a trainer on the Chicago circuit any longer. Magana has relocated to Anthony, Fla., where he is managing a farm the Papieses recently opened. Magana said the farm - which has yet to be named - houses about 60 horses and that the equine population there could soon reach 80.

Magana said Jamie Ness trains almost all Papiese horses at racetracks and that Ness won't have a string in Chicago this year. Midwest Thoroughbreds still has a handful of Illinois-breds, and those horses are to be sent to Brueggemann in Chicago, Magana said.

Field sizes fall back to earth

After a promising start, field size at the meet dropped dramatically in the last four racing days.

On Friday, Feb. 12, opening day, 92 horses competed in 10 races, and on Feb. 13, there were 90 horses in 10 races. Since then, Hawthorne has hosted four nine-race cards that have had between 62 and 68 starters.