12/06/2001 1:00AM

Cane Ridge rising for High Alexander


Training racehorses since 1970, Tom Tomillo has pretty much seen it all at the racetrack. That's partly why he does not get overly excited when he talks about running Cane Ridge as the deserving favorite Saturday in the $100,000 High Alexander Stakes at Hawthorne Race Course.

"It's a Stallion Stakes," said Tomillo, referring to the Illinois series of races for statebreds. "There ain't a whole bunch in there."

Another reason that Tomillo is approaching the 1 1/16-mile High Alexander with characteristic calm: He has been winning so much lately that he is almost, well, used to it. Tomillo appears well en route to the training title at Hawthorne, the Stickney, Ill., track, having racked up 19 wins from his first 65 starters.

"This is the best group of horses I've had in a long time," said Tomillo, a 58-year-old Chicago native. Tomillo, whose stable of nearly 60 horses is currently split between Hawthorne and Fair Grounds, expressed confidence that Cane Ridge will become his latest success.

"He's got to have a shot in there," he said. "He's been training excellent. I thought I'd give him a chance to see what he can do."

Cane Ridge, owned by Chris and Angelo Barney, has amassed more than $260,000 in career earnings the hard way: by running 56 times against seasoned high-end claiming horses at a variety of middle distances. After watching Cane Ridge, a 5-year-old son of Bello, win a $25,000 claiming race by 4 1/4 widening lengths Nov. 8 at Hawthorne, Tomillo believed he would fit well in the High Alexander.

At least several other starters in a well matched field of 12 have similarly encouraging form.

Spanish Hall, the 2000 winner of the High Alexander, would probably be the favorite if this were not his first start since June 23. A 5-year-old gelding who represents half of a stable coupling for trainer Ricky Lindsay, Spanish Hall has been breezing long distances as this comeback race approached.

Stop Drop and Roll enters in career-best form, having captured allowance races in each of his last two races. A 3-year-old colt trained by John Wainwright, he has been remarkably consistent so far in 11 career starts.

The tempo of the race should be on the swift side, which presumably could assist the likely favorites. Starters with early speed include Butterscotch Dave and Major Omansky.

As is customary at this time of year, Hawthorne will employ its lighting system to illuminate the track for the latter portion of the card. The program ends with a flourish, as full fields of allowance horses directly follow the High Alexander as the final two races.