10/29/2001 12:00AM

A different kind of fall meet opens

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The marathon ended Sunday. Now Chicago racing shifts into sprint mode. On the heels of a six-month meet at Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course opens a short two-month meet Wednesday. The meet, the second held at Hawthorne this year, will conclude after 47 days with a New Year's Day program.

Hawthorne was unhappy with the split-season schedule it was awarded this year, and with Arlington racing farther into the fall this year than ever before, Hawthorne had to make changes to its meetings. In the end, the track deemed its short spring meet a success, but there are new challenges this fall. Hawthorne's traditional fall stakes were shifted to spring this year. Gone from the upcoming meet are the Hawthorne Gold Cup, which had been used as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic, and the Hawthorne Derby.

"We're opening up much later this year, and the brevity of the meet disallows many opportunities," said Thomas Carey, Hawthorne's director of operations. "There's no Breeders' Cup prep, no outdoor concerts, and use of the turf course will be limited."

Back is Hawthorne's guaranteed pick six, but with a guaranteed daily payoff reduced to $50,000 from the $100,000 offered in the spring. The base bet for the fall pick six, including part wheels, is $2. Hawthorne also is offering free admission, parking, and a program on opening day. On Fridays, they each will cost $1.

The latest Hawthorne has ever run on turf is late November, and the track will attempt to take immediate advantage of the course, which appears to be in great shape. That effort begins Wednesday, when three of the nine races are carded for grass.

Among them is the featured fourth race, the $40,000-added Autobot Stakes for 3-year-olds, in which Wudantunoit heads a 10-horse field. Owned by Stonecrest Farm and trained by Murray Johnson, Wudantunoit ran a terrible race in an Arlington allowance in late September, but rebounded to finish third, beaten a nose and a neck, in the Oct. 13 Franklin Stakes at Keeneland.

Mystery Giver, an Illinois-bred brother to the star turf mare Ioya Two, also merits respect on the basis of a recent second-place finish in open company at Arlington. Team Block owns Mystery Giver and Chris Block trains him.

Freeway Ticket, unproven on turf, is sharp and has a promising grass pedigree. He's won consecutive races and was an easy winner in a Fairmount Park stakes earlier this month for trainer Richie Scherer.

Also carded is the Gray Ghost Invitational Starter Handicap, a turf race for gray or roan horses.