12/31/2005 1:00AM

Emigh, Laviolette in close battle

Email

CHICAGO - If the human element of the equine racing drama is your thing, then closing day at Hawthorne on Monday holds just a little bit more intrigue than might otherwise be the case.

It is coming down to the wire for leading rider at this meet, with Chris Emigh and Shane Laviolette slugging it out through a series of wet, leaden afternoons to end the Chicago racing season. Friday, on a day when the sun never seemed to fully rise here, it was veteran Randy Meier who had a breakout afternoon, winning three races on the card. Young Timothy Thornton struck twice, while Emigh rode one winner, giving him a 58-57 edge over Laviolette entering Saturday's third-to-last program. And as an aside, Emigh earned that lone victory; he rode Gringa Hug like a wild man through the muddy Hawthorne stretch to win an $18,000 claimer on the wire.

Both men may be ready for a winter vacation by the time the Monday program concludes: Laviolette's agent, Jimmy Ernesto, has lined up mounts in all nine races, while Emigh's representative, Jay Fedor, has rides for his client in eight of them.

There is one open allowance on the closing-day card, race 7, a two-turn entry-level allowance for fillies and mares. The edge here has to go to Emigh, since Laviolette's mount, Red Sunset, failed to win a conditioned $10,000 claimer last out, and if it is claiming horses one likes in these Hawthorne winter allowance races, there are several others entered with more proven class than Red Sunset. Emigh, on the other hand, gets a leg up on Woodland Sprite, who stretches out to two turns for the first time for trainer Brian Williamson. Her career interrupted for more than a year by injury, Woodland Sprite returned this season with a win and a pair of thirds, and on pedigree she is suited to this two-turn trip.

But it is jockey Jesse Campbell who may be on the horse to beat. Solo Survivor came around steadily through 2005, and after a layoff of several months finished third of eight in a nine-furlong entry-level allowance on Nov. 20. Racing from a stalking position that day, Solo Survivor - bred to bloom later in her career as a daughter of Pleasant Tap - was within a length of the lead a half-mile from the finish. She has worked twice recently for trainer Jim DiVito, whose tough luck ended with an overdue win this week, and may be sitting on a winning race.