12/27/2005 1:00AM

Droppers beware in this field


CHICAGO - A handicapper could look at the eighth race on Thursday at Hawthorne as a battle between assumption and accomplishment. It is assumed that horses consistently racing at higher class levels will prove superior when dropping to face cheaper company. But what if the cheaper company has actually accomplished far more than the supposedly superior animals?

Hawthorne's eighth is a two-turn entry-level allowance restricted to fillies and mares bred in Illinois, and the race drew nine entries. Starting from the rail, the first seven runners have combined to win all of one race from 68 starts in 2005. The two horses on the outside, however, have gone 8-28, and Gigi From Fiji alone has won five times this year. And still the top three betting choices in the race may come from that pool of horses who barely recognize the winner's circle when they walk past it.

Gigi From Fiji has won 2 of her last 3 starts by a combined 13 lengths, but those wins came against $6,000 claimers. Sandwiched between those wins was a distant sixth at this statebred allowance condition. Gigi From Fiji, the thinking will go, was outclassed two starts back.

Bet on Grace has won three on the year, a low-level statebred maiden and a pair of conditioned claimers. In allowance company she is 0-5.

But at least these two have shown they know how to win. Such has not been the case with Mz. Winjum, who may wind up the second choice behind Political Hostage. Mz. Winjum has lost all 13 times she has started this year, though at more than $38,000, her bankroll is about $10,000 heavier than Gigi From Fiji's. Mz. Winjum has gone off at odds of 4-1 or less in her last eight starts, but has not yet been able to break through with a victory and has not seemed as sharp as she was at the end of the Arlington meet and the beginning of Hawthorne.

Political Hostage had gone 0-9 this year before her most recent start, but in a $30,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer Dec. 15 at Turfway, she won by more than three lengths. Political Hostage finally had broken through, but Thursday she must show she can perform as well away from the cushiony synthetic Polytrack used at Turfway. At Hawthorne, where the racing surface is good, old winterized dirt, the story may be different.