12/31/2004 1:00AM

Emigh busy as usual in finale


CHICAGO - With a lock on his third Hawthorne riding title, Chris Emigh will celebrate the final day of the winter meet here, not by taking it easy, but by going hard.

A no-nonsense journeyman, Emigh used to leave the track in the evening spent from riding every mount so aggressively.

"It's a competition thing," Emigh said. "I've always tried to ride every race like it was the Derby. I used to over-ride some of them. I had to learn to calm down."

Calm down yes, slow down, no. With 67 winners through mid-card Friday, Emigh had a 17-win lead over Larry Sterling, who left for California about a month ago. Emigh had also ridden 100 more horses than any other Hawthorne jockey, a testament to his hustle and the work of Emigh's agent, Jay Fedor. And so the meet ends for Emigh the way it has gone since late September - with mounts in nine of Sunday's 10 races.

"We got off to a hot start, and it just snowballed," said Emigh. "Any of the top 10 riders here could have been leading rider. I just happened to get lucky."

Emigh's only breather Sunday comes in race 2. In the opener, a featured fourth-level allowance with a $50,000 claiming option, Emigh will try to ride Teller Line to her second straight victory. Seven fillies and mares were entered in the feature, which is carded for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Teller Line won her last start, a third-level allowance here Dec. 15, by making a clear lead in a two-turn race and turning back all challengers, but she has the versatility to adapt to Sunday's sprint. Trained by Mike Campbell, Teller Line ran well in one-turn miles at Arlington, and horses capable of that can run well at this trip at Hawthorne.

If the track is carrying speed horses, Pass the Pepper might be long gone. Brilliant at times during an injury-plagued career, Pass the Pepper drew the outside post, but has the speed to clear and get to the rail. Pass the Pepper finished third in a race like this Dec. 1, but she was not at her best that day, and the Hawthorne track surface had not yet begun its annual December transformation into an inside-speed palace.

There is one horse in the race who has no hope, Dance Rhythm, and two others, Bella Cobra and Ozilda's Nancy Lee, who are distinct outsiders. It's Spooky finished more than three lengths behind Pass the Pepper in their last common start, but she, too, turned in a sub-par effort. Of Legal Age comes off an eighth in a Turfway Park sprint stakes.