12/06/2005 1:00AM

Expendable fits winning profile


CHICAGO - If a bettor thinks a racetrack plays to speed, the first thing is to find the speed. So there's a problem in Thursday's featured fifth race at Hawthorne.

The race is for third-level allowance horses or $35,000 claimers at 1 1/16 miles, but there isn't a definitive front-runner among the 10 entrants.

Maybe will be sent from the eight-hole. But is making the front end actually preferable right now at Hawthorne?

The track played fast last week. Mediocre horses were running six furlongs in under 1:10. But pure speed was not overwhelmingly dominant. Horses leading after a half-mile in sprints or three-quarters in route races - the call before the stretch call - won 15 of the week's 45 races, but horses racing from fourth place or farther back at that same point won 18 times. Pace-pressers, those in second or third after a half or three-quarters of a mile, won the other 12 races, with just four winners coming from second-place. In other words, the horse pressing the inside speed generally was in for trouble.

Painting in broad strokes, two basic types of races developed: those in which speed ruled, and those in which speed fell completely apart. This is not unusual. Sometimes, the perception of a speed bias motivates the strategy used by trainers and jockeys, and if too many humans are focused on making the lead in one race, the closers can and will win at Hawthorne.

Deep closers, horses making last-minute rallies, were to be avoided. Horses leading at the stretch call won 27 times last week, with 12 more winners in second at the stretch call. Horses worse than third at the stretch call won just three times, and two of those came on the Thursday card.

With temperatures still well below freezing, the racing should not change appreciably. And so we are still left trying to sort through the fifth-race puzzle.

Expendable, one candidate to race close to the pace, has some appeal at the right price. She finished last, beaten more than 15 lengths in her most recent start, but that came just 16 days after a claim, and against Illinois-bred stakes horses. Expendable starts Thursday for the $35,000 claiming tag for which she was claimed, and the Bret Calhoun barn, overseen by Peaches Geier, is in the midst of a strong Hawthorne meet.

also looks like a contender. She ran a troubled third - placed second via disqualification - in her last race, and with only 10 starts has more upside than many of her opponents.