03/28/2002 1:00AM

Chicago Six looks best, if he runs


With no major Kentucky Derby preps this weekend, and most of the nation's racetracks closed for Easter on Sunday, the scheduling of Saturday's Illinois Champions Day couldn't have worked out better for Sportsman's Park, in Cicero, Ill.

Illinois Champions Day comprises six stakes for Illinois-breds. The purse for each race is $100,000, including $25,000 per race for the owners of runners who were both conceived and foaled in Illinois.

For the second consecutive year, Chicago Six may be the star of Illinois Champions Day. He is among nine older males entered in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, but just raced last Saturday. As of Thursday, trainer J. R. Smith Sr. hadn't committed to running Chicago Six on Saturday.

Last year, Chicago Six won the Milwaukee Avenue on one week's rest. But he is coming off a neck loss in the Sportsman's Breeders' Cup, a race he won in 2001.

Chicago Six is one of the more successful Illinois-bred runners of recent years, having earned more than $700,000, much of it outside the Illinois-bred ranks. Three of his five stakes wins last year came against open company, including a win over Guided Tour in the Grade 3 National Jockey Club Handicap.

Chicago Six is far and away the best runner in the Milwaukee Avenue, but he must carry 127 pounds and concede at least nine pounds to his opponents.

Those who feel the weight spread is too much might find Act of War an attractive alternative to Chicago Six. Winner of the restricted Springfield Stakes at Arlington last summer, Act of War is improving for trainer Gene Cilio. He recently returned from a seven-month layoff in a Fair Grounds allowance and finished fourth, beaten less than a length, in a field that included the Grade 1-placed Generous Rosi.

"I couldn't be happier with the way he's coming in," said Cilio. "He got into a little trouble in his last start and almost won. I'm very happy with the weight spread and I think he has a chance if he runs his race."

The rest of the Milwaukee Avenue field appears evenly matched. The speedy R. Little Redhead was third behind Chicago Six in last year's Milwaukee Avenue and was recently third in an optional claimer.

Lil Mephistopheles wins infrequently, but was narrowly beaten in his meet debut three weeks ago.

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