12/18/2006 12:00AM

Favorite has a few negatives


CHICAGO - There's no doubt Dixie Dreamer will be dropping in class when she starts Wednesday at Hawthorne in the featured eighth race, a six-furlong second-level allowance that drew a full field of 12, with two more fillies and mares stuck on the also-eligible list. Dixie Dreamer finished fourth of 11 on Dec. 2 in the Holiday Inaugural Stakes at Turfway Park, and any of the three in front of her that day - Tax Refund, Beautiful Bets, and Bluesbdancing - would be a strong favorite in the Wednesday feature. And two starts ago, racing on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Churchill, Dixie Dreamer was sixth of 10 in the Very Subtle Stakes.

But Dixie Dreamer has the look of a horse who runs to the level of her competition, to say nothing about her troublesome recent habit of breaking slowly. With post 10 in a bulky field, a first-step misstep could spell the end of Dixie Dreamer's win chances, and Dixie Dreamer already has failed to clear this allowance condition in three tries this season. In fact, she has not won a race since September 2005, when she was home by a head in the Bassinet Stakes at River Downs.

Alternatives to the likely favorite? Start with Birdie Onthe Green, who caught a sloppy track that she might not have cared for when she finished fourth in a race at this class level Nov. 29 at Hawthorne. That was Birdie Onthe Green's first start since early September, and her trainer, Mike Campbell, is as likely to use a comeback race for a prep as he is to have a horse fully cranked after a layoff. Birdie Onthe Green, however, also drew poorly in post 11, as did Daytime Pleasure, who comes off a two-turn entry-level allowance win, but is saddled with post 12. Less lucky still is Coffee Shop, a lightly raced Kentucky-based filly with contending form who landed on the also-eligible list.

Then come the murkier possibilities, horses like Miss Merit, who was 20-1 and mired in entry-level allowance races when out of the blue she scored an 8 3/4-length win here Nov. 24. And even a horse like Annie Dugan could sneak into the mix. Annie Dugan most recently finished third in a $25,000 claiming race, but there is not a huge gap between that class and a second-level allowance race. Trainer Danny Switzer owns a piece of Annie Dugan and tends to spot her according to her potency; when the filly is doing well, she gets shots in allowance races. And Annie Dugan, unlike the more obvious contenders, is well-drawn in post 2.