11/07/2002 1:00AM

Coronet the day's high point


CHICAGO - With Baker Road, trainer Leo Gabriel has one of this year's stronger route horses in the Illinois-bred ranks. Baker Road has won three times and banked more than $150,000 this season, and Gabriel feels his horse is coming up to Saturday's $100,000 Illinois Coronet in fine shape. And Gabriel still is worried.

"Let me tell you, it might say Illinois-breds, but that's coming up a damn good race," Gabriel said.

It's true, and much the same can be said about the rest of Saturday's blockbuster statebred program. Besides the Illinois Coronet for older horses at two turns, there are five other $100,000 statebred stakes in various divisions. The races all drew full or nearly full fields, and with horses such as Two Item Limit and Tic N Tin, and the return to Chicago of the Arlington meet's top two riders, Rene Douglas and Elvis Trujillo, Saturday figures to be the best day of Hawthorne's winter meet.

The Illinois Coronet, at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, closes out the sequence of stakes races, and fittingly it may be the day's best race from top to bottom. "There's some good horses in there," Gabriel said. "Rickey Lindsay's horse can really run."

Gabriel was referring to Saquache, who really came around during the Arlington meet. Saquache won only once this summer, but was second to Rock Slide and a close fourth to Generous Rosi in open races, and most recently finished second to Chinkapin in a statebred handicap on Sept. 27.

Chinkapin is back for the Illinois Coronet, and he has been in top form since early summer, but Arlington's one-turn miles may serve his talents better than this two-turn race does.

Not so for Baker Road, who beat Saquache in a fourth-level allowance race at Hawthorne the last time he ran this distance. Baker Road, whom Gabriel claimed for only $32,000 last winter at Fair Grounds, also won the Milwaukee Avenue over statebreds at Sportsman's and was second in the open Omaha Handicap July 21 at Horsemen's Park in Nebraska. That start, on a hard track under a scorching sun, took something out of Baker Road, but Gabriel feels his horse has bounced back now.

There are others with a legitimate chance. Colorful Tour is a 3-year-old facing his elders, but ran well in a comeback race on turf late in the Arlington meet. San Pedro has open stakes wins to his credit and rebounded from a did-not-finish to win an Arlington sprint allowance in his last.

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