12/30/2005 12:00AM

Cristel goes to his ace, Proven Cat

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CHICAGO - When Haw-thorne's fall-winter meet began in late September, trainer Mark Cristel had won 10 races from some 140 starters in 2005. But when Cart's Rose won the fourth race here Friday, it gave the Cristel barn eight winners at this meet alone, a strong three-month run to finish off the season.

Cristel's ace-in-the-hole, , races again Sunday in the featured eighth race, a third-level route allowance with a $35,000 claiming option. It was Sept. 8 when Cristel claimed Proven Cat out of a narrow loss in a $10,000 nonwinners-of-three claimer at Fairmount Park. Five weeks later at Hawthorne, Proven Cat cleared the condition by more than nine lengths - and then things really started getting good.

Cristel stretched Proven Cat from sprints to two turns, and Proven Cat, a daughter of the little-known sire Peruvian, responded by taking her game to a new level. On Nov. 10, she won an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance race by more than three lengths. Brought back less than two weeks later, Proven Cat wasn't as sharp as she had been, but still finished second stepping up into a second-level statebred-restricted allowance. Then on Dec. 15, she cleared that condition in a romping five-length victory.

Although the Sunday feature is an open race, eight of the 10 entrants were bred in Illinois, and none of them is obviously superior to Proven Cat. The hottest horse in the race, who can lead or stalk depending on the circumstances, has a legitimate shot to win her fourth race of this meet.

One of the two who weren't bred in Illinois is , who goes for trainer Mike Reavis. Reavis began this meet slowly, but has picked up steam in December, and with a strong finish was sitting on 22 wins as of Friday. Tea is Served won an entry-level allowance race here Nov. 2, and was second of 10 in a second-level allowance the last time she raced. Sunday, Reavis has her in for a $30,000 tag, and though Tea Is Served is racing over her allowance conditions, she looks like a square-priced contender here.

Two weeks ago finished second in a race at this class level, but if she is to break through with a win Sunday, she will have to do so from a disadvantageous outside post.