10/05/2007 12:00AM

Cloudy's Knight's stature growing

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Cloudy's Knight, in more ways than one, is a big favorite of his owners, Jerry and Shirley Schwartz.

First, with a win in the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes on Sept. 23 at Woodbine, Cloudy's Knight further padded his status as the best horse that the Schwartzs - Chicagoans - ever have owned. Second, Cloudy's Knight simply is big.

A chestnut gelding by Lord Avie out of the mare Cloudy Spot, Cloudy's Knight stands 17 hands 3, his head seeming to reach up to the heavens. But packed in the huge frame is a fierce competitive spirit, as well as a serene soul.

"I call him my gentle giant," Mrs. Schwartz said by phone Friday.

Cloudy's Knight, as is always the case, went back to trainer Frank Kirby's Hondo Ranch following his Sky Classic win, but now he is back at Hawthorne. Suffice it to say, the winners of the prestigious Canadian International at Woodbine are more likely to come from a famed European yard than the Hawthorne backstretch, but Cloudy's Knight should be among the major players when he returns to Canada for that $2 million race on Oct. 21.

Cloudy's Knight, in this day and age, seems like an elder statesman at age 7, but that's not really the case. His late development came by design, a product of Mrs. Schwartz's determination to avoid pushing homebreds - especially a gigantic horse like Cloudy's Knight - too early.

"They seem to mature better at the end of their third year going into their fourth, so we never run them as 2-year-olds," Mrs. Schwartz said. "We don't believe in running 2-year-olds, and when he was born, we knew right away that we shouldn't run him until he was 4."

Cloudy's Knight was a big foal, a big yearling, and a big 2-year-old. While others in his generation were wailing away in short sprints, the juvenile Cloudy's Knight wasn't even in training. Kirby, Mrs. Schwartz said, voiced concern that Cloudy's Knight might not make it as a racehorse because of his size, but he debuted in August 2003, finishing seventh. Decent at age 3, better at 4 and 5, Cloudy's Knight has come steadily forward at ages 6 and 7. He won the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup early this year, and just missed in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz and the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap. With more than a half-million dollars in purses this year, Cloudy's Knight's bankroll has swelled to almost $830,000 - and the richest payday could be yet to come.

"I've said Cloudy has put us on Cloud 9 this year," Schwartz said. "It's been a great year, and doing well at Woodbine, that'd really put the icing on the cake."

Ciao returns to winning ways

Cloudy's Knight is not the only live turf horse in Kirby's Hawthorne barn. Rebounding after two disappointing efforts, Ciao won Thursday's ninth race, a third-level grass allowance, by almost seven lengths.

Ciao captured 2 of 3 starts last year at 2, and easily won a second-level Churchill Downs allowance in June, but she then finished ninth in the Virginia Oaks and eighth in the Pucker Up at Arlington.

"She's been getting a little bit nervous, not so much in the paddock, but she was really getting antsy in the post parade," Kirby said. "It really started on her in Virginia. We schooled her a lot here, and it helped. I think she'll be okay now."

Kirby said he would look for a stakes race at Churchill for Ciao: The Nov. 10 Mrs. Revere would figure to fit the bill.

Thorton hot streak continues

Aboard Ciao for the blowout was jockey Tim Thornton, who has continued his surprising Hawthorne run this week. Thornton won four races Wednesday, three more Thursday, and entered the Friday card with 15 victories, putting him atop the Hawthorne leaderboard by five over Eddie Razo.

* A plethora of entry-level turf allowance races highlight the nine-race Sunday card. The best of them might be race 4, which could come down to Shezadoubleagent and Melissa's Dream.