04/21/2010 11:00PM

Drills say Shrewd Operator is ready


STICKNEY, Ill. - Who's ready to rumble? It's the question of the day Saturday at Hawthorne, where Illinois-breds compete in six stakes races each worth $100,000, and winter-layoff runners abound.

Souper Miss can win the Peach of It Handicap for older females going a route of ground - if she's ready to run two turns in her first start since Dec. 16.

He's Bonafide won the Oct. 31 Buck's Boy Handicap for Illinois-bred dirt-route horses by more than five lengths. That was also the last time he raced, and its fair to wonder if He's Bonafide will turn in the same type performance in the Milwaukee Avenue on Saturday.

And what about Shrewd Operator? He hasn't raced since Dec. 19, but figures to be the heaviest stakes favorite of the day, an odds-on choice in the Robert S. Molaro for older sprinters.

Of the three stakes comebackers, Shrewd Operator seems most solid. He's been putting up fast (Shrewd Operator knows no other speed) workouts at Hawthorne since mid-March, and four of his six posted drills have been of the bullet variety. Shrewd Operator missed more than a year of racing because of injury, but returned last June, and after a couple of turf misfires, regained the form he'd shown in 2007-2008.

He won three of his last four 2009 starts by a combined 16 3/4 lengths, including back-to-back Hawthorne romps. In the Lightning Jet Handicap last fall at Hawthorne, Shrewd Operator missed the break and never got involved, and it's well past time for this 6-year-old gelding to earn his first stakes win.

He's Bonafide beat 3-5 shot Stonehouse in the Buck's Boy last fall, but Stonehouse is the stronger horse in a wider sense, and should be favored to turn the tables in the 1 1/16-mile Milwaukee Avenue. Stonehouse beat General Quarters and Giant Oak in the Grade 3 Mineshaft on Feb. 20 at Fair Grounds, and though he failed to come close to reproducing that form in the March 27 New Orleans Handicap, Stonehouse should bounce back Saturday. He's Bonafide has posted steady works for trainer Hugh Robertson, but perhaps P D Q Kiddo has the best chance to upset Stonehouse.

In the Peach of It, Souper Miss fits right in with Illinois-bred stakes regulars Apple Martini, Lakeaway, and Home's the Best. But there's the layoff to consider. Five-year-old Souper Miss turned a major corner late in 2009, winning a late-Arlington-meet turf race before scoring back-to-back blowout victories going two turns on Hawthorne dirt. Trainer Mickey Goldfine has gotten five published works into Souper Miss for her 2010 debut, and a one-mile breeze in 1:39.60 April 10 suggests this mare is ready to fire first time back.

No major layoffs in the Governor's Lady, for older female sprinters, but here it's difficult to separate the trio of Nicks, Cruise, and Ripe Tomato. The three finished noses apart (Nicks, then Cruise, then Ripe Tomato coming late) in a March 31 allowance race here. Give an edge this time to Ripe Tomato, who won the Powerless Handicap last fall at Hawthorne, and who may get a better setup than was the case last month.

Contention runs deepest Saturday in the pair of six-furlong sprints for 3-year-olds, the Pretty Jenny for fillies, and the Land of Lincoln for males.

The Land of Lincoln looks especially deep, with Royal Express perhaps top dog going into the race. Royal Express faded badly after setting the pace in the March 13 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, his most recent start, but gets major class relief while turning back to a more suitable sprint distance. Over the winter at Fair Grounds, Royal Express won a pair of one-turn races, including a 3 1/2-length stakes score in the Black Gold.

Thing is, one can't comfortably eliminate any one of the nine entered in the Land of Lincoln, and Royal Express could find himself pinned inside while setting a fast pace. Stretch-running Seguro, 15-1 on the morning line, could rally at a price.

Brian Williamson trains Seguro, and also trains Ain't No Saint, who might have a chance in the Pretty Jenny. Ain't No Saint closed from 10 lengths off the pace to win her career debut March 30, and she might have a faster pace at which to aim Saturday. Shake N Quake, Wild Hope, and Rusty Spinner all should take betting action.