09/28/2007 12:00AM

Copper State gets sprint prep for stakes

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Hawthorne hosts a multi-race Illinois-bred stakes day on Nov. 3, and it's a good bet that trainer Richard Hazelton has circled the Illini Princess Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on dirt as a likely spot for Copper State. Copper State's one big race came under just such conditions, producing a win here last winter in the $117,000 Debutante Stakes.

Copper State will be prepping for her stakes try in Sunday's featured eighth race here at a sprint distance shorter than her best. But Copper State has won at six furlongs before, and she just might get a dream setup in her first start since July.

The Sunday feature, an Illinois-bred second-level allowance, drew a field of nine fillies, and many of them want to show speed out of the gate. Rock Hard Candy came from off the pace to win an entry-level allowance last time out at Arlington, but her more typical race comes from on or just off the pace. Valeries Valentine is pretty much a dead-on front-runner, and both Mytak and Little Star race from a pressing position.

So, if all the speed shows up Sunday, the pace might be fast enough to set things up for Copper State, a two-time winner of almost $130,000 for Hazelton and the Asiel Stable. Copper State won her maiden by more than three lengths here going three-quarters, and she's far from helpless in sprints. Her recent work pattern looks solid, and the long Hawthorne stretch should give Copper State plenty of time to tag the pacesetters - even if her main goal comes later in the meet, and at a longer distance.

Thornton not afraid of spotlight

If it's possible to be a veteran rider at 20, well, that's Tim Thornton.

Thornton got off to a pretty good start here as a 16-year-old apprentice rider in 2003, and made the requisite trip to the Aqueduct winter inner-dirt meet, topping apprentice riders there during the winter of 2003-04.

But Thornton took a couple of serious spills, badly injuring his wrist in one of them, and by last year, it was reasonable to wonder if his career trajectory was going anywhere but down. After topping out with 90 wins and $2.1 million in purse earnings in 2005, Thornton fell off to just 34 wins and $775,000 in purses during 2006. But he has bounced back nicely, and won two races here Friday, the fifth aboard Burke's Legend and the feature on Dynareign. He already has six wins this meet, tying him for the early lead in the jockey standings. Thornton also had a solid Arlington meet, finishing among the top 10 riders, with 31 winners, many of them longshots.

"I think I had one winner for a top-10 trainer," Thornton said.

Thornton gets a lot of rides on cheaper claimers and statebred maidens and allowance horses - but he is on a much bigger stage this weekend at Arlington. Saturday, he was slated to ride the Kentucky shipper Extreme Supreme in the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup.

"It's the biggest race I've been in, but I don't think I'll be nervous," said Thornton.

Thornton grew up riding bulls and in rodeos. When he and his siblings fell, his father would say, "Get up, you're not dead." And that's the post-injury approach Thornton seems to have taken. He shows no fear of coming up the fence or through a tight hole, and has been working a slew of horses here every morning - eight both Thursday and Friday.

"My agent and I both have been working hard," said Thornton, whose book is handled by Jimmy Ernesto. "It's paying off."

West Coast Coach sits out road trip

Jim DiVito put Piratesonthelake on a van bound for Turfway Park late Friday morning, and Piratesonthelake looked like he would be favored on Saturday in the Kentucky Cup Sprint. But DiVito's other prospective Turfway starter, West Coast Coach, was left behind.

DiVito elected to pass on the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack, not long after he opted against the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. West Coast Coach has won both of his starts so far - an Arlington maiden race and a Prairie Meadows stakes - and DiVito said he's in no hurry.

"If I give him time now, I think he's going to be a better horse later," DiVito said. "He's already shown he can run."

While the KC Juvenile is a two-turn race, the Oct. 28 Iroquois at Churchill Downs is a one-turn mile, and DiVito thinks that spot might suit West Coast Coach quite well.

Another Coach, Coach Jimi Lee, worked here last Sunday, his first breeze since going down with a splint-bone injury early this summer. DiVito said there was "no timetable" for when Coach Jimi Lee might make it back to the races.