12/13/2012 4:57PM

Hawthorne: Banner Bill gets his chance in allowance

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Barbara D. Livingston
Banner Bill has started only once on a fast dirt track.

STICKNEY, Ill. – In early October, a race-ready horse named Banner Bill was shipped from New York to Hawthorne with the plan of racing him in Illinois-bred stakes competition. Things did not work out as intended. Banner Bill came into the barn of trainer Jim DiVito, the very barn where the equine herpesvirus that still looms over the Hawthorne meet broke out Oct. 14, the weekend before Banner Bill was to race.

Banner Bill at least has come through the outbreak with his health, but only now is he getting a chance to run. He was one of eight horses entered in a stakes-class allowance sprint, the featured race on Hawthorne’s program Saturday.

The race, with no allowance conditions and carded at six furlongs, drew an interesting group, and Banner Bill adds zest. With just six starts in a career interrupted by more than a year because of injury, 3-year-old Banner Bill has started only once on a fast dirt track. His workouts since getting out of quarantine at Hawthorne have been blazing, and he might prove the equal of the more established sprinters Saturday.

Banner Bill faces formidable opposition, including coupled two-horse entries from the meet’s two leading trainers, Roger Brueggemann and Scott Becker. Both Brueggemann-trained horses, Southern Dude and Signsealndeliver, are capable. Signsealndeliver returned from a long layoff to capture the Lightning Jet Handicap on Oct. 20 (the race for which Banner Bill had been intended) and has won five of his nine races at Hawthorne. Southern Dude sharply won an open allowance race during the fall 2011 Hawthorne meet and returned from a break to finish an encouraging second behind Nagys Piggy Bank in a Nov. 4 allowance race.

Nagys Piggy Bank, who followed that performance with a second in the Lightning Jet, is one of the two Becker-trained entrants, and he and jockey Chris Emigh look like the potential controlling speed. The other part of the entry, Hogy, also is an interesting horse. Owner Bill Stiritz claimed Hogy for $80,000 out of his most recent start at Hawthorne, but while Hogy has the talent to factor in a race like this, he appears to be better suited to turf than dirt.

River Bear failed to kick home with his typical stretch run and finished fourth in the Lightning Jet, but he, too, is a six-time Hawthorne winner who is capable of a rebound. And not to be overlooked is one of the best claims of the Chicago season, Francois. Taken by trainer Charlie Bettis for $7,500 during the Arlington meet, Francois might appreciate returning to a sprint distance Saturday and showed he retains good form with a closing second-place finish in a two-turn race Nov. 23.