05/03/2002 12:00AM

Cadman down, Sterling up

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CHICAGO - Chicago's west-side tracks, Sportsman's and Hawthorne, can be a real merry-go-round for jockeys. You're up, you're down, and round and round you go.

Just a year ago Zoe Cadman, the personable South African native, put an unlikely exclamation point on her rise through the local ranks of riders by winning a title at Hawthorne's spring meet. She rode 36 winners in 30 days, got a nice gold watch, and seemed to be featured on a local media outlet every other day. No woman jockey at Hawthorne had ever experienced remotely comparable success.

But Cadman still was an apprentice last spring. She lost her bug over the summer, had a less successful fall meet at Hawthorne, her first as a journeywoman, and battled to find live mounts at Sportsman's Park this spring. Entering the final weekend there, Cadman had ridden only 10 winners from 148 mounts.

But discouraged she is not. "I wouldn't say it's been a struggle, though nothing has gone especially well," Cadman said. "I've got some better horses to ride at Hawthorne. More people I ride for are shipping horses there, and some have been saving horses for the Hawthorne meet. Things have slowed down [since losing the bug], but that's to be expected. You can hustle as much as you want, but there's a limit to what you can do.

"You're either hot or you're not," she added. "Larry's the one that's hot now, but hopefully I'll be the one that gets hot again."

Larry is Larry Sterling, who has just finished running away with the Sportsman's riding title. It's the second time Sterling has led a jockey colony, but the first time in Chicago, and Sterling's rise was as unexpected as Cadman's.

It started with trainer Mike Reavis, who has ridden Sterling first call for a couple years. Reavis sent out a barrage of winners early in the Sportsman's meet, Sterling found himself atop the standings, and he began picking up live mounts from other local barns as well as in stakes races.

"I guess it could slow down at Hawthorne," Sterling said, "but it probably should carry over. It's no big thing to me. I just enjoy going out in the morning and then working in the afternoon. It's nice to be leading rider and all, but it's not a big deal to me."

Turf a more exact science

Hawthorne has installed a new electronic timing system, and because of the change, turf races no longer will be run at "about" distances.

"An American Teletimer system just was installed," said Jim Miller, Hawthorne's media director and jack-of-all-trades who, among other things, will oversee the maintenance of the turf course this spring.

With a warm winter and plenty of recent rain, the turf course begins the meet in fine shape, Miller said. Hawthorne will start off carding three turf races a day, but could up that number as the meet progresses.

"We can move the rail to three different positions," said Miller. "It's starting out in lane 3 until the Hawthorne Derby on May 11. A lot of people have been waiting on their turf horses," since there's no grass racing at Sportsman's Park, or, for the matter, Oaklawn Park, where several Hawthorne outfits spent the winter. "We're expecting and hoping for a lot of entries. We're not limited to how much we can run on the grass because we have all summer to let it grow back."

Gold Cup could get boost

With a split season imposed on it last year, Hawthorne had to shuffle its stakes schedule, and track management worried about its premier race, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, which was moved from its traditional fall date to the spring.

But in the end, last year's Gold Cup turned out to be fine. Duckhorn, who won the Ben Ali at Keeneland last month, won the race, and was followed home by Lido Palace and Guided Tour, who went on to have excellent seasons of their own.

This year, the May 18 Gold Cup could benefit from the cancellation of the Pimlico Special, which competed with Hawthorne's race for prominent handicapper horses last year.

But there's another potential conflict, the Massachusetts Handicap, which is two weeks after the Gold Cup. Several East Coast horses are pointing to the Mass Cap. It would be nearly impossible for a horse to run in both races.

Still, Hawthorne officials said several horsemen with top horses have expressed interest in the Gold Cup. They include recent Hall of Fame inductee Bud Delp, who trains Include, winner of the Pimlico Special last year. Include could start either in the Mass Cap or the Gold Cup. Evening Attire, an easy allowance winner Thursday in New York, also is under consideration for for both races.

Other possibilities for the Hawthorne Gold Cup are New Orleans Handicap winner Parade Leader, defending champ Duckhorn, and Hail the Chief, an easy winner of the National Jockey Club Handicap in his last start.