04/25/2009 12:00AM

Business down slightly as meet ends

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Hawthorne's brief spring meet comes to a close Monday, a little battered perhaps, but certainly not knocked out as racing shifts to Arlington Park this Friday.

With racing business trending down across the country, Hawthorne held its own this spring, according to assistant general manager Jim Miller.

"We'll be down slightly overall, but we're going to do better than the national trend," Miller said Saturday morning.

Miller said he expects the track to post a narrow increase in average daily ontrack handle on live racing, which is a plus.

Hawthorne's average field size will decrease from last year, from 7.7 at the 2008 spring meet to about 7.4 horses per race this year, Miller said. But that's not surprising, given how wet the weather has been in Chicago.

"We just went through the fifth-wettest March in history," Miller said.

And, fittingly, there was a chance of rain all weekend and through Monday's program as well, meaning the closing day's three turf races could easily be moved to the main track. Horsemen can read a weather report, too, which is why four of the seven horses entered in the featured sixth race here look better suited to dirt than turf. The race is for second-level Illinois-bred allowance horses and is carded for one mile on grass, but leading contenders Oughta be Mine, Blue Knight, and Racing Bran have no turf success in their career history.

The one horse in the race who has run at least decently on both surfaces is Beat the Freeze. He won on dirt at Hawthorne last season after a third over the Arlington turf course. Both Moises Yanez-trained grass horses in the Monday feature - Three Tickets and Strong Stag - have won before on the Hawthorne turf, and while The Alcova Kid has failed to win in six local turf starts, he has been second or third in three of them.

Frank Kirby had the Hawthorne spring training title wrapped up a few weeks ago, but the race for leading rider is coming down to the wire. Through Friday's racing here, Inez Karlsson and Tim Thornton - both past Hawthorne champions - were knotted at 41 wins apiece. If things between those two come down to the final day, however, Karlsson has a major edge. She has mounts lined up in all 10 of Monday's races, while Thornton only has rides in races 2, 5, 7, and 10.