10/19/2003 11:00PM

Cactus Ridge's injury ends Calhoun's dream


CHICAGO - All summer, trainer Bret Calhoun fretted over Cactus Ridge. His colt was supremely fast. Cactus Ridge had suggested that as early as last spring, and confirmed it in June by winning his career debut at Arlington in an exceptionally fast time. But even as Cactus Ridge rolled through four straight wins over the summer, Calhoun wondered how long it would last.

"It was day to day, race to race, work to work," Calhoun said. "Just about last week, I'd finally bought into the idea he was going to make it. Then, bang."

The bang came Sunday, when Cactus Ridge walked out of his stall at Hawthorne favoring his right leg. A set of X-rays showed a fracture in the knee, and suddenly Cactus Ridge was out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

It was a knee that had Calhoun worried over the summer, but the injury Cactus Ridge apparently suffered in a strong workout here Saturday had nothing to do with his previous problems. "This was a whole new injury," Calhoun said.

Cactus Ridge, owned by Toby Keith, is finished for the season, perhaps longer. Calhoun said the new injury probably won't require surgery, "but what we have to decide is whether they want to go in there and clean up any of the other stuff.

"It's not a career-ending injury, but I'm not saying he's going to come back and race," Calhoun said. "I don't think he'll be running if he has to come back and be cheaper than he was."

Calhoun, a young trainer in the midst of a breakout season, was set to travel to California to oversee Cactus Ridge's final preparations for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He had flown from Chicago to Dallas after the work Saturday, and was to have gone on to Los Angeles on Monday. Now, just like that, there is no reason to go.

A Williamson exacta?

Brian Williamson has two of the six horses entered in Hawthorne's fourth race Wednesday. It helps to have numbers.

"I need that right now," Williamson said Monday.

This is the second season in which Williamson, the son-in-law of the trainer Harvey Vanier, has run horses at Hawthorne in his name. He has long been Vanier's assistant, and had overseen the Chicago string while Vanier wintered in Florida. But now, it is his name attached to the meet record - just 1 for 25 so far.

"We haven't had a bad meet, but the winners haven't started coming," Williamson said. "We just haven't run that many live horses yet."

Williamson's pair of 2-year-old fillies, Barrel Racer and Journey Fever, both might be live in Hawthorne's fourth, a first-level allowance at one mile and 70 yards.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I ran one-two in there," he said.

That would be a welcome result for Williamson - kind, loyal, and sensitive, but a relative unknown outside the cozy world of the backstretch.

"When the horses started running in my name, everybody on the backstretch knew who I was, but nobody else does," Williamson said. "I've been training the horses for Harvey up here for years, when they were under his name, and we had some good meets."

The Vanier outfit was soft on 2-year-olds last season. This year's crop has more substance. Williamson said he has a couple unraced 2-year-old colts he is eager to start, and both Barrel Racer and Journey Fever have shown talent. Journey Fever won her maiden at a mile at Arlington, and was second here Oct. 9 turning back to a sprint. Barrel Racer has less experience, with a debut sprint win at Arlington and a fifth - behind Journey Fever - earlier this meet.

"She kind of ran green when the dirt hit her, but she was really rolling down the lane," Williamson said.

One of the two should roll to victory Wednesday.

False Promises to Churchill?

False Promises, who won the Hawthorne Derby by a length here Saturday, may make one last start this season, his trainer, Tony Granitz, said Monday. Granitz said he would nominate False Promises to the Nov. 16 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs, and that his colt was likely to start there. If so, False Promises will move from restricted 3-year-old races into an open stakes against older company.

"He's peaking right now," Granitz said. "He came out of the race real good."