04/12/2006 11:00PM

Cristels send out another favorite


CHICAGO - Mark Cristel and his brother James Cristel, who owns many of the horses Mark Cristel trains at Hawthorne Race Course, had the prohibitive favorite in a sprint allowance race here at the National Jockey Club meet two Saturdays ago, but Proven Cat finished last of six on April 1. The feature this Saturday is a route, and the Cristels have the likely favorite for this race, too, a solid horse named Wantedtobeagray who has finished second or third in his last four starts, all at the third allowance level of Saturday's featured eighth race.

As for Proven Cat, nothing was physically amiss with her, Mark Cristel said Thursday. Claimed for $10,000 late last summer, Proven Cat morphed into one of the sharpest horses on the Hawthorne grounds, and she had scored a blowout victory in her 2006 debut.

"I thought she was in trouble the whole way the last time," Cristel said. "It was just was one of those bad trips - she was even in trouble [galloping out] after the race."

Proven Cat, who will stretch out to two turns for an Illinois-bred stakes race later this month, has proven to be an astute claim, but so has Wantedtobeagray, taken last September for $14,000. Wantedtobeagray moved up to $18,000, won a race for $25,000 here last November, and now has firmly entrenched himself in third-level allowance races with $35,000 claiming options.

"We're pretty happy with him," said Cristel. "To be honest, I always liked him better than the filly. I think as he gets older, he can be better."

While it might look on paper that Wantedtobeagray has been running up to horses and hanging, Cristel believes Wantedtobeagray has just run into a superior foe or two in his recent losses. And he may be right. Summer Book was a sharp winner of Wantedtobeagray's 2005 finale; Air Academy won Wantedtobeagray's 2006 debut, then came back to beat better horses in his next start; and Corpus Sand, who beat Wantedtobeagray March 25, was sharp enough that he was shipped to Texas for a Lone Star stakes race Thursday night.

Corpus Sand also got a clear lead through a moderate half-mile last time, but Wantedtobeagray should have more pace at which to run this time. That also holds true for Dress for Success, who finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Wantedtobeagray in that March 25 race. Restless Mon beat Wantedtobeagray by a nose on March 4, but faded badly to seventh in the March 25 race. He, too, would benefit from an honest early pace Saturday.