12/26/2006 12:00AM

Field has familiar ring with it

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CHICAGO - Hope you liked the sixth race on Dec. 9 at Hawthorne, because they're basically running it again on Thursday.

The featured eighth race on Thursday's nine-race Hawthorne card brings out eight of the nine horses who contested that Dec. 9 race, even the winner, Battle Tank, who won last time under the race's $40,000 claiming options. Battle Tank is back for the same tag in a 1 1/16-mile race that is also open to third-level allowance horses. New to the group are Never Give In, who on recent form looks overmatched, and Awesomwithbroads, who is coupled with Royko in the wagering and should add early pace to the race.

There was plenty of pace in the Dec. 9 race, the leaders going a quarter-mile in about 23.40 seconds and a half in 46.20. Even on the fastest-playing days at Hawthorne, those are taxing fractions, and they took their toll on the front-runners, all of whom wilted by the finish. It wasn't just the first flight of horses affected, either. Stalkers who made early moves - such as Barely Union Scale - were unable to sustain their run in deep stretch. Battle Tank, with hot-riding Israel Ocampo up, waited longer than most and was able to hang on by three-quarters of a length over Garesche. Battle Tank, however, has won just 5 of 37 starts in a five-season career, and he is far from a cinch to repeat his winning effort.

Garesche is an interesting horse. He has run well in Arlington one-turn miles and around two turns on the Hawthorne dirt, but between Oct. 28, 2005, and Dec. 9, 2006, he didn't race at all. Trainer Andy Hansen obviously did work getting Garesche ready for his comeback, and it would be no surprise to see him break through Thursday.

Zippy Slew finished third behind Battle Tank and Garesche last time, but that itself was an achievement. Racing down the backstretch that day, Zippy Slew dropped at least 20 lengths off the pace, and he made up at least 15 lengths in the final half-mile while finishing fastest. Zippy Slew got good when trainer George King stretched him out to routes in late summer, and he continues to hold his form.

Barely Union Scale held fourth after making his early move last time and would be easy to like on Thursday with a better-timed moved. He drew the outside post, however, and must either be sent for position or drop back and risk a wide run around the first turn.