04/28/2011 3:41PM

Hawthorne: Ace Rich comes alive with two turns

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Saturday marks closing day of the Hawthorne winter-spring meet, the 10-race card looking much like the rest of a claimer-dominated season. Featured on the program is a first-level allowance, race 7, carded at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

The race does include a couple mildly promising prospects, including the near-certain favorite, Ace Rich. Ace Rich nearly won a sprint maiden race here last fall but was ineffective in two one-turn races at Oaklawn Park early this year. Back in Chicago, trainer Jim DiVito experimented with route racing, and voila, Ace Rich was transformed. On March 2, in his two-turn debut, Ace Rich led all the way while capturing a maiden race by a half-length. Seventeen days later, Ace Rich, a son of Forestry, drove home the fact of his improvement, finishing a close second while facing other winners for the first time.

That two-race hot streak – plus the lack of other front-runners to push the early pace – figures to drive Ace Rich’s price well below his 5-2 morning-line odds, and Ace Rich might be worth opposing with Friendly Banter. Claimed out of a winning Feb. 20 performance for $40,000 by co-owner and trainer Louie Roussel, Friendly Banter most recently finished a distant fourth in a March 27 first-level allowance race at Fair Grounds. But that was no run-of-the-mill allowance race. The winner, Prime Cut, turned in the fastest one mile and 70-yard time of the Fair Grounds meet and came back to finish second in the Lexington Stakes, while the runner-up, Bind, is among the more exciting 3-year-old prospects not on the Kentucky Derby trail. Even third-place finisher Hydro Power boosted the race with a blowout Hawthorne maiden win and a third-place finish to older horses here in a statebred stakes last weekend.

Rider’s title down to wire

The battle for leading rider at the meet figures to come down to the meet’s final day, since only one win separates Tanner Riggs and Jozbin Santana entering the last two days of racing action. Through Wednedsay’s results, Riggs had 47 winners to 46 for Santana, and both men have a backstory. Riggs mulled retirement over the winter because of prolonged weight battles, while Santana was out of the game and working in a Florida restaurant a little more than a year ago.

◗ After a five-day dark period, action on the Chicago circuit shifts to Arlington on Friday.