12/29/2004 12:00AM

Dutchie no longer in for tag

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CHICAGO - The horses have not all galloped south for the winter. There are 12 in Chicago for Hawthorne's featured eighth race on New Year's Eve, the third-from-last program of the winter meet here.

Two months ago Dutchie's form was headed south. Back from yet another injury - they have plagued her whole career - Dutchie finished eighth and sixth in October allowance races here, and soon she had fallen in for a claiming tag. Now, Dutchie has won three in a row, and, reclaimed by trainer Michelle Boyce out of her last start, Dutchie looks like a contender in this third-level, six-furlong allowance.

The race offers a $35,000 claiming option, but Dutchie runs under the allowance condition, a sign of her form turnaround. Boyce, a part-owner and breeder as well as Dutchie's original trainer, had to drop Dutchie all the way to the $14,000 claiming level in November, but then Dutchie finally broke through, cruising to a 13 3/4-length victory. She won by six in her next start, an $18,000 claimer, but after getting her picture taken, Dutchie walked with a groom to her new home in the barn of trainer Mike Reavis.

Her stay in the Reavis shed row lasted two weeks. When Dutchie showed up in a $25,000 claimer - she won it by a neck - Boyce and part-owner Mary Hess snatched her back up.

"My partner, Mary Hess, was very distraught when she was claimed," explained Boyce. "She's the third generation that she's bred. When I saw she was back in for a tag, I called and asked if she wanted her back."

Dutchie started this winning streak in a sprint, but won her last two going long. Now it is back to six furlongs, but Boyce doesn't believe it matters.

"She's proved fairly versatile both ways," Boyce said. "When she runs well, she can handle any distance."

Dutchie has been going to the front, but to win this time she might have to settle and rally. The pace factors in the Friday feature begin at the rail with Paul's Dream and go all the way out to post 12 with Airport Kate, and there are some quick horses in between. Even on a track surface that has recently promoted speed, the winner figures to come from behind. Fighting Fever has the right style for the race shape, and she has been working smartly for her first start back from a six-week freshening.