12/04/2006 12:00AM

Easier foes, tough post for 'Stellas'


STICKNEY, Ill. - Stellas New Groove got a taste of the big time a couple of months ago at Keeneland. And now it is back to reality for this 2-year-old filly.

Stellas New Groove may not note the starkly different surroundings she encounters Wednesday at Hawthorne Race Course, where there is a chance of snow with temperatures struggling to hit the freezing mark.

What Stellas New Groove may be keenly aware of, however, is a different class of racehorse than she faced Oct. 18 at Keeneland, when she finished a close fourth of eight in a two-turn entry-level allowance race. In Wednesday's sixth race, Stellas New Groove has eight Hawthorne-style rivals, and figures to be favored to beat them in a six-furlong race. The return to a sprint may also suit her.

Stella's New Groove won impressively going six furlongs in her career debut Sept. 8 at Arlington, but lacked that same kind of late zip running long in Kentucky. Whether it was the added ground, Keeneland's synthetic racing surface, or a more challenging class level that got Stellas New Groove beat, she figures to be competitive on Wednesday, with three Hawthorne workouts showing since that Keeneland start.

Stellas New Groove did draw poorly, and trip can mean everything this time of year at Hawthorne, when the racing surface tends to be frozen and fast, sometimes playing to speed, sometimes just to horses that stick to the fence. Stellas New Groove is going to be coming from off the pace, and from post 9, it will be a challenge to find the rail. So even if Stellas New Groove is the most talented horse in the race, she may not win.

Some bettors will find Smart Wildcat an alternative. Smart Wildcat required seven tries to win a maiden race, but when she did, on Nov. 18 at Hawthorne, she won by more than 11 lengths. Love Star has won two straight races, sprinting to the lead and wiring fields of lower-level rivals.

Spooked, a Kentucky shipper, has tried a couple of stakes spots and has early speed. But the pick for an upset is Go West Madam, who beat $25,000 maidens last out in her career debut like a horse who could well handle a jump in class. She gets one Wednesday for owner-trainer Mike Reavis, and is well drawn to use her early speed in post 1.