09/25/2008 11:00PM

Chicago circuit adjusts back to dirt


STICKNEY, Ill. - Okay, there was no hat contest, and there were no celebrity sightings, even of the C-list variety. There was no ocean breeze, or talk of which racetrack dining institution would be patronized in the evening. No one ever said this was Del Mar or Saratoga, but opening day of the 2008 Hawthorne fall meet went off with pristine weather and a decent Friday afternoon crowd. And with trainer Tom Tomillo - a Hawthorne veteran if ever one existed - capturing the meet-opener with a low-level claimer named Charming Bay, everything felt just about right in the Hawthorne universe.

Most striking of all was the sight of horses and riders coming back with dirt coating faces, bodies, and silks. Kickback plays no part in summer Chicago racing, which happens on turf or Polytrack at Arlington, and both human and equine quickly are reminded that things are much different on this side of Chicagoland.

"Going into that first turn, all of a sudden I'm thinking I'm riding with my eyes shut," jockey Jesse Campbell said after Friday's third race. "The horses, they have to get used to it, too. They're in the same boat we are."

Campbell went unplaced in race 3 with a horse named Eagles Roar, while stretchout sprinter It's Never to Late made the lead out of the gate and never looked back - just the trip jockey E.T. Baird has made his reputation on.

"I like being in that spot, no matter what track I'm on," Baird said on his way back to the jockeys' room - no Hawthorne dirt on his silks or helmet.

Every year, the Hawthorne meet starts with talk of an impending speed bias, but It's Never to Late was the only wire-to-wire winner in the first four races of the day.

Baird, meanwhile, will ride here only through Wednesday, then move to Kentucky for the Keeneland meet. Baird said his agent there will be jockey Larry Sterling, who is out with a broken wrist.

As for Campbell, he is riding in pain, still suffering the effects of a spill on Sept. 6 at Arlington. Campbell has an injured shoulder and collarbone, but doctors have told him that continued race-riding won't cause any further damage. Campbell said he'll ride here for a couple weeks, go on his honeymoon, and return at Fair Grounds.

Giant Oak shipping to Keeneland

Trainer Chris Block has shipped all his horses from Arlington to Hawthorne, save the five that are going to Keeneland. Among that group is Giant Oak, who showed as much promise as any 2-year-old based this summer at Arlington and will make his next start in the Woodford Reserve Bourbon, a two-turn grass stakes on Oct. 5.

Giant Oak, an Illinois-bred son of Giant's Causeway, won his debut in a grass route race, then stayed in a Sept. 18 off-the-turf entry-level allowance and won by five lengths going two turns on Polytrack.

Also headed to Keeneland is Amazing Results, who had a brutal trip when he finished second as the favorite last Saturday in the Lake Michigan Stakes. Block said Amazing Results will race in either the Perryville Stakes on Polytrack or the Bryan Station on turf.

Proctor fillies set for Keeneland stakes

Trainer Tom Proctor has Keeneland grass stakes lined up for his two talented 3-year-old fillies, Sly Storm and Closeout, both of whom last raced at Arlington. Sly Storm ran well enough winning her grass debut in a Sept. 19 turf-sprint allowance race at Arlington and will come back in the Oct. 10 Buffalo Trace Franklin County.

Closeout, winner of the Pucker Up in her most recent start, has been moved from the also-eligible list into the main body of the prospective field for the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Oct. 11.