12/27/2006 12:00AM

Ex-mates face off in route


Trainer Chris Block doesn't have a single horse entered in the nine races on Hawthorne's Friday racing program, but Block's fingerprints are all over the featured eighth race, an entry-level route allowance restricted to Illinois-breds.

Block and his family, who race their stock as Team Block, had an excellent 2006 season, with even more to look forward to next year. But they breed their own horses - occasionally buying a yearling prospect - with an eye toward allowance and stakes races. The fillies, if they're good enough, might be retired as broodmares.

When a Block horse looks headed for life as a claimer, the horse more often than not ends up in the care of another trainer. Team Block and Chris Block lost both Scrapbook and Stumbling Block via the claim box in recent months, and both have wound up in race 8 on Friday. So, too, did half the Thoroughbreds in Chicago, just glancing at the entries. There are actually just 12, but the total seems higher since so many of the horses look the same.

Scrapbook and Stumbling Block are typical. Scrapbook dropped all the way down to $5,000 nonwinners-of-two races before he was claimed from the Blocks on Nov. 22, winning that day by six lengths. Scrapbook had begun showing more speed than he had earlier in the year, and, taking advantage of a front-end bias, he won again Dec. 7, beating $10,000 nonwinners-of-three claimers and getting claimed again, this time by trainer Jim DiVito. There is no easy lead in the cards for Scrapbook this time, and he will be hard-pressed to make it three straight victories.

Stumbling Block was a much higher-end claim, taken Aug. 20 at Arlington for $35,000 by trainer Hector Magana. Stumbling Block has not found the right spot in four subsequent starts - though he has two thirds and a second in his last three races - and drew terribly on Friday, landing post 12, which almost always spells doom in 1 1/16-mile dirt races at Hawthorne.

Smarty Facts looked like a world-beater for leading trainer Frank Kirby when he got an ideal pace setup against five $25,000 maiden claimers on Dec. 14 at Hawthorne. The competition runs deeper here, though the pace scenario may be similarly favorable for Smarty Facts. It also may suit Mickey the Muse, another stalker who drew a favorable inside post.