10/09/2008 11:00PM

Hard to look beyond Adriano

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Of course, there are times to play against heavily favored horses in stakes races. It's just that Saturday's $250,000 Hawthorne Derby does not appear to be one of them.

Adriano deserves to be heavily favored in the local derby, a Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile turf race. A Grade 2 winner on Polytrack with more than $700,000 in career earnings, Adriano has banked more than his seven Saturday rivals combined. He has won grass races at three different venues and on courses labeled firm and good, and has won over the Hawthorne Derby's nine-furlong distance. His trainer, Bill Mott, has won this race two times in the past, and Adriano has shown enough to lure jockey Kent Desormeaux to Hawthorne on a day when surely he would have live mounts at Keeneland.

And even when Adriano has suffered recent losses, the failures have come with excuses. In the Colonial Turf Cup on June 21, Adriano finished a well-beaten fifth of 10 in his first start after being transferred from trainer Graham Motion to Mott, but that race was run under extreme conditions.

"I probably should have scratched him," Mott said. "There must have been a couple inches of rain while we were standing in the paddock. It was run in a swamp. He looked like he was going good down the backstretch, but he lost his action and slipped on the turn."

Six weeks later, as the even-money favorite in the Hall of Fame at Saratoga, circumstances also worked against Adriano. The race had a slow pace with the field bunched tightly. Adriano got stuck in the middle of the action for the stretch run and never got out, finishing a close fourth.

"He got stuffed," said Mott. "As in, s-t-u-f-f-e-d."

Finally, in the Aug. 30 Kent Stakes at Delaware, a clean run. Sixth by some nine lengths at the stretch call, Adriano powered home and won by a half-length. Any kind of luck on Saturday, and a similar result should follow.

After Adriano, the Hawthorne Derby's most accomplished horse is Cherokee Triangle, who won consecutive minor stakes in the Midwest during July and August, but has not raced since the last of those, and might find Saturday's nine-furlong distance challenging. Cherokee Triangle was scratched out of the soft-turf Honor Glide on Sept. 6 at Arlington, a race won by Hawthorne Derby entrant Snoose Goose.

Let It Rock looks somewhat interesting. He has improved markedly since being stretched out to routes three starts ago, and makes his turf debut with some grass in his pedigree. Denim won a grass allowance race at Arlington at odds of 45-1, and is a longshot again here. Mr. Mischief is a three-time grass winner, but appears to be more a miler. Robscarvic and Strait of Mewsina will get the distance, but don't appear to be in Adriano's league.

Mary Keim: Slight edge to Si Si Mon Amie

The card also includes the $75,000 Mary Keim Illinois Owners' Handicap, another grass race, but one that looks much more competitive than the Hawthorne Derby. Twelve horses, including the coupled entry of Love Handles and Ric Rac, were entered in this one-mile race.

Si Si Mon Amie, who was a troubled second in another Illinois owners' turf stakes last month at Arlington, might wind up a tepid favorite here. Seven of Si Si Mon Amie's eight starts this year have come away from Chicago, and she has proven competitive in open stakes races over a mile.

Apple Martini exits a pair of Grade 3 stakes races, and won an Illinois-bred stakes in June, while Lisa M could be a horse-for-the-course play. In her only start over the Hawthorne grass, Lisa M won a second-level allowance here last fall by four lengths.