01/07/2008 1:00AM

Business slow as meet winds down

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The featured eighth race Wednesday at Hawthorne, an Illinois-bred entry-level allowance, offers a purse of $28,000. That's no sum at which to sneer, but it's also almost twice as much as any other purse on Wednesday's nine-race card, a circumstance that typifies the way the Hawthorne racing season is winding down.

The fall-winter meet here ends this weekend, but everything after Jan. 1 basically is an extension on previous years, since Hawthorne sought and was granted permission from the Illinois Racing Board to extend its meet further into January this season. With many stables having departed for Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida, and with many others having gone into hibernation until spring, business during the new phase of the Hawthorne meet has not exactly boomed.

The five racing days last week attracted an average field of only 7.1 horses. Exclude Saturday and Sunday and that figure fell to an average of 6.3 horses per race. Ontrack handle for the week - the kind of betting that generates far and away the greatest profits for a track - averaged only $106,000 per day, with about $74,000 bet on-site last Wednesday, and about $80,000 on Thursday. Saturday's figures were at least decent: about $144,000 ontrack on the live product and about $2.67omillion of total handle on Hawthorne's races

The average daily purse distribution for the week was about $155,000, a figure helped significantly by the $179,000 paid out Saturday.

Lawn favored in allowance feature

As for that $28,000 seventh-race feature Wednesday, it may well boil down to Lawn and Greco's Secret, the two likely favorites in a field of eight fillies and mares who will race 1 1/16 miles.

Lawn is the pick to win, though she makes her first start against other winners, and was allowed to set a slow pace en route to a maiden win over just six rivals on Dec. 22 at Hawthorne. Lawn, however, won an open maiden race rather than one restricted to Illinois-breds that day and has made just three starts in her career. She finished a well-beaten sixth in her debut just over a year ago, but showed much more after an 11-month layoff, closing for second in her first race back before clearing the maiden ranks in her most recent start. Brian Williamson, Lawn's trainer, is in the midst of his best stretch of the Hawthorne meet.

Greco's Secret has gone 0 for 7 this season, but still won't be worse than second choice Wednesday. She's finished second or third in her last three starts, all under conditions similar to Wednesday's, and while showing no overt signs of improvement, neither does Greco's Secret appear to be on the brink of regression.

The matchup between Lawn and Greco's Secret has more behind it than mere horseflesh: Chris Emigh rides Lawn and Tim Thornton rides Greco's Secret. These two are locked in a duel for leading rider. Thornton has topped the Hawthorne standings most of the meet, but Emigh won six races last Thursday, and in general had an excellent week to take an 83-82 lead heading into the final week of racing here.