12/31/2009 12:00AM

Contested pace should aid Lakeaway


STICKNEY, Ill. - Saturday's closing-day card at Hawthorne's fall-winter meet is last call until Feb. 12 for horsemen wintering in Chicago - and don't they know it. Including also-eligibles, there were 118 horses entered on the 10-race program. That's roughly two cards worth of horseflesh on one of the slower Hawthorne entry days this meeting.

And it's not just the cheap races that got entries by the score: Featured race 6, a second-level route allowance also open to $30,000 claimers, drew a field of 11.

First thing handicappers should do this time of year in Chicago is check the temperature, and Saturday's forecast high is, well, ugly. The mercury will not hit 20 degrees, and the worst-case scenario is a high of 12. If racing is not abandoned entirely, it will be conducted over frozen conditions.

And when the Hawthorne track is frozen, there generally are two types of races. Type 1 is inside-speed dominance, and there are plenty of rail-skimming front-end winners on frozen days. It doesn't matter how fast the horse goes: If they are loose on the lead and hugging the fence, no one is catching up. But Type 2 is the fall-apart race, where so many jockeys are mounted on horses with speed that a mad dash to the front leads to a pace meltdown. And the Saturday feature looks like it could trend along this line.

The most natural beneficiary to such a scenario would be the most talented horse in the race, Lakeaway, who exits a second-place finish in a race just like this Dec. 16. Lakeaway, who has no speed, rallied from sixth place that day and briefly looked like a winner turning for home. But she ran into a sharp filly named Souper Miss, who drew away to win by five, with Lakeaway second by a similar margin. One can count as many as seven different early pace factors in race 8, and if even half try for the lead, Lakeaway should get the setup she needs. Her rider, Eddie Perez, is a Chicago veteran, and - hopefully - knows better than to venture into the middle of the track on a frozen Hawthorne afternoon. Come up the rail, or don't come on at all.

* Midway through Thursday's card, neither of the two jockeys vying for the riding title at the meet, Tim Thornton and Tanner Riggs, had won a race. Riggs, who has never won a riding title, holds a 57-52 lead over Thornton heading into the closing days.