11/20/2008 12:00AM

Don't count out longshot Distorted Groom

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STICKNEY, Ill. - In south central Illinois, pure farm country, between the hamlets of Bluford, Crisp, Piopolis, and Golden Gate, sits the town of Wayne City, population 1,063 at the last census. One resident's naturally poetic name is Owen Rainwater, a farmer of corn, soybeans, and "a little wheat," by Mr. Rainwater's own account. Rainwater has turned most of the farming duty over to his son. There are 11 Thoroughbreds about five hours north at Hawthorne Race Course that require training.

One of them, a Rainwater homebred named Distorted Groom, runs in the featured seventh race on Saturday at Hawthorne - a doozy of a feature, at that. A field of 10 was entered in the six-furlong race open to third-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers. The horses are well matched, the field is packed with speed, and the race has some substance.

Distorted Groom figures somewhere in the 20-1 range, but close followers of the Chicago circuit won't count Rainwater out. Rainwater, 73, has won at only a 12 percent clip this season, but his stock has a way of steadily coming into form, eventually churning out a peak effort. While Distorted Groom is a homebred, Rainwater claims several horses a year for himself, and they tend to win for at least the price he paid.

"Usually, when I claim a horse, I have something in mind for the horse," said Rainwater, who trains only horses he owns.

Despite a name that's easy to remember, Rainwater is little-known, even though he first took out a training license in 1959 or 1960, by his recollection.

"Through the 60s and 70s I probably kept around 20 horses," Rainwater said. "It's kind of been in and out a little bit. When I could be away from the farm, I'd pick up more horses. When I needed to be around the farm more, I stayed at home."

Distorted Groom started his year with a win in the $75,000 Illinois Owners Stakes going six furlongs here at Hawthorne, but things steadily have gone downhill. Distorted Groom was getting drummed over the summer, and his fourth by eight lengths in the statebred-restricted Lightning Jet Handicap here last month actually was his best performance since his 2008 debut.

"He didn't like the Polytrack [at Arlington] at all, and he had some other problems," Rainwater said. "He's done his best running at Hawthorne."

Distorted Groom has some speed, but not as much as horses like Rocket Rodd, Kemp, and Foxie's Boy. He should be in the second flight of horses in a race likely to be won by an off-the-pace horse. Of that type, Guccione, a two-time Hawthorne winner, might be live Saturday at a decent price.