03/15/2006 1:00AM

Celluloid Hero back to sprinting

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Sunny Taylor / Coady Photography
Celluloid Hero will make his next start in the Lost Code on April 8.

STICKNEY, Ill. - Not wanting to butt heads again with Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer - to say nothing of highly ranked Kentucky Derby hopeful Private Vow - the connections of the 3-year-old Celluloid Hero have abandoned Oaklawn Park in favor of Hawthorne Race Course. They also, for the time being at least, have decided to return Celluloid Hero to sprint racing after a failed effort in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes last month.

Celluloid Hero finished eighth of 10 in the Southwest, his first start in a two-turn race, and proved no match for one-two finishers Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer, who return this weekend in the Rebel Stakes. Celluloid Hero will be pointed to the six-furlong Lost Code Stakes here on April 8, Illinois Derby Day.

Celluloid Hero, who breezed an easy half-mile here Saturday for trainer Hugh Robertson, had trouble in his career debut last Oct. 15, then won two straight Hawthorne races at long odds, and started his 3-year-old season with a 16-1 upset of the Mountain Valley Stakes, also at Oaklawn. Besides the big win payoffs, the common denominator in Celluloid Hero's three victories has been distance, and though the horse looks and acts like a route horse, Robertson said, he might not really want two turns.

"He always seemed to me like a horse that would run long - not necessarily his pedigree, but the way he trains and acts," said Robertson. "I think we could at least stretch him out to a one-turn mile at Arlington."

Robertson also said that the talented sprinter Smoke Smoke Smoke, who won last year's Lost Code, is on the mend after suffering a setback that derailed his comeback from a layoff that began after a turf-sprint stakes win last July 3 at Churchill Downs. Smoke Smoke Smoke has won 6 of 11 starts and more than $241,000.

Tiptoe In still loves to run

Late winter, early spring, and the horses are running on Chicago's southwest side. Must be time for Tiptoe In to win a race.

Tiptoe In is a youthful-looking bay gelding who has been racing on this circuit since 1998, when he won a maiden race on the Hawthorne grass course.

Tiptoe In has been a low-level claimer for several years now. But by all appearances, the 11-year-old Tiptoe In loves his job. He trains with the zeal of a youngster - "It's all my people can do to hold him when he gallops," said trainer Roger Brueggeman - and almost always is ready to fire when he comes out for his first start of the season.

Tiptoe In won his first start of the season as far back as 2000, when racing still was being conducted at Sportsman's Park, and he won his season's debut here in both 2004 and 2005. Apparently, the betting public is less attuned to these cycles than the horse himself, since Tiptoe In went off at 6-1 when he won a $4,000 claimer by more than two lengths last Saturday. Jockey Uriel Lopez appeared to be little more than a passenger as Tiptoe In rated off the early pace, swung wide, and - as he has done 19 times now - ran down the leaders.

Tiptoe In had fractured a sesamoid when Brueggeman claimed him in July 2002, and it took more than a year to get him back to the races. The horse is sound now, Brueggeman said, but this still might be the final race meet of his career. Brueggeman, who also owns Tiptoe In, said he plans to retire the old boy at the end of the National Jockey Club meet. There have been offers of a post-racing home, but Brueggeman said he will have to weigh the options, because Tiptoe In still is a racehorse, not a pet.

"He can be pretty tough, and it might take him a little while to adjust to the farm," he said. "I want to make sure he gets into the right place."

Grandelena eligible to rebound

Grandelena is the pick in a six-horse field of second-level allowance sprinters on Friday's card.

Grandelena won consecutive races here last fall, and won them rather impressively, and though she flopped in her lone start this season, the loss looks excusable. Racing in the Dixie Belle Stakes at Oaklawn, Grandelena broke slowly on a sloppy track and never got involved, finishing eighth of nine. But with a sharp break Friday, she should be prominent throughout race 7.