10/09/2007 12:00AM

Capricious primed for a peak race

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - It took the Steve Asmussen barn 110 starters to earn 10 wins at the recently concluded inaugural Presque Isle Downs meet, but Asmussen's Hawthorne string has needed only 12 starters to rack up five wins during this meet's first three racing weeks. Moreover, many of the live Asmussen runners have been horses that last raced - and lost - on Presque Isle's synthetic main track.

Just such a horse, Capricious, looks like the one to beat in the featured fourth race on Thursday at Hawthorne, a six-furlong race restricted to 2-year-olds eligible for an entry-level allowance and horses entered for a $50,000 claiming tag. While Capricious, a Padua Stables homebred, races under the allowance condition, another Asmussen entrant, Wild Logic, starts for the claiming option.

Capricious drew the rail, but that's nothing new - she broke from the fence in her first two starts, too. Capricious managed to make the lead in her career debut at Churchill Downs, and after opening up by four lengths at the stretch call in that July 8 race, she held on to win by a length in a field of 12. But at Presque Isle, Capricious was away last in a six-horse field, and she never made an impression, checking in last while beaten almost 17 lengths.

Back on dirt, and facing a field lacking obvious talent, Capricious should do much better. And while Capricious obviously has speed, Asmussen's 2-year-olds generally are responsive to rider commands, and Capricious might be able to avoid a pace duel with speedsters such as Big Lou.

Big Lou, trained by Mike Reavis, finished last as the betting favorite in her career debut July 21 at Arlington, but rebounded two weeks later with a front-running Polytrack victory, and validated that form with a close second-place finish in her most recent start, the Sept. 8 Prairie Meadows Debutante. Big Lou seems like a confirmed front-end type, and her speed may not be as effective on this deeper surface as it was at Arlington and Prairie Meadows.

Form means little in turf sprint stakes

Hawthorne's dirt track regularly produces results that are difficult to explain using traditional Western principles of logic, but it was the grass course that produced a strange result Monday.

Form pretty much was turned inside out in the featured fifth race, an overnight turf sprint stakes dubbed the Don Ciccio. Lookinforthesecret, the heavy favorite, had finished first seven times and second four times in a memorable 11-race 2007 campaign, but after stalking a fast pace in the Don Ciccio, he had nothing in the late stages, checking home last in a seven-horse field, albeit only four lengths from first.

Also at the back of the field, and just a neck in front of Lookinforthesecret, came Prosico, the well-bet second choice in the race. That pair had finished two-three behind Fort Prado last time out in a high-end turf-sprint allowance race on the Arlington course.

Coming out on top in the Don Ciccio was stretch-running Alone at Last, who paid $26 winning for trainer Charlie Bettis and jockey Randy Meier. Alone at Last has struggled to break through in races of any kind this season; it was odd to see him finally prevail in an overnight stakes.

Shrewd Operator tries to buck Keeneland bias

Shrewd Operator loved the Arlington Polytrack. Saturday, he will probably get the chance to transfer his form to the Keeneland Polytrack with a start in the Perryville Stakes.

It might be tough. Shrewd Operator won his career debut on Aug. 5 at Arlington by eight lengths, and captured his second and most recent start by more than five on Sept. 12, but he led from start to finish on both occasions, racing over a glib track surface that carried speed. Keeneland's main track uses exactly the same type of Polytrack that Arlington employs, but during its Polytrack history, the Keeneland surface has strongly favored off-the-pace horses over front-runners.

Shrewd Operator, a Team Block homebred trained by Chris Block, has continued to train well on the dirt track at Hawthorne, however, and was considered likely to ship by van from Chicago to Kentucky on Wednesday, Block said. The Perryville is a $200,000 race contested at about seven furlongs.