04/13/2007 11:00PM

Hawthorne cards expanding to 10 races

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CHICAGO - It's not the salvation of the racetrack, not even a purse increase, but the fact that Hawthorne plans to expand its daily racing program from nine races to 10 beginning Monday shows the track has come back to life after a slow start to the winter-spring season.

Adding an extra race means paying out more in purse money each day and putting added pressure on the horse population. But Hawthorne's assistant general manager, Jim Miller, said the track is in a good position now to handle the change, and wants to make up some races lost to bad weather early in the meet.

"With our cancellations we had in the meet, we were a total of 10 missed racing opportunities behind last year, and since we were just fine in the purse account and just fine with entries, I thought we should put it back out there," Miller said. "Where we can run 10 races we're going to do it. We won't hustle a six-horse field to make a race."

Early in the meet, Hawthorne was struggling to fill races and attracting little interest from bettors anywhere in the country. Two weeks into the meet, handle, Miller said, was down about 20 percent from last year. Those numbers have mercifully shifted, however, and through Friday, Hawthorne was only 6.8 percent behind last year's total handle figures, and has a chance, Miller believes, to make up the rest of the ground before meet's end.

Since the Fair Grounds ended on March 25, said Miller, "handle has improved immensely."

Hawthorne held one turf race last Saturday, Illinois Derby Day, but hasn't used the grass since. Turf racing, Miller said, is scheduled to return Thursday, with one or two races on each card, weather permitting.

Feature in national spotlight

Even with an entry-level allowance race as the feature on Monday's 10-race card, the Hawthorne signal will be among the most popular in the country, with Fair Grounds closed and Gulfstream dark.

That featured race goes as the seventh, is carded for fillies and mares at six furlongs, and drew a field of 10 with no strong favorite.

Kissit finished fourth, beaten more than 10 lengths in her most recent start, but that came against second-level allowance company, and Kissit was a somewhat troubled third at the entry-level allowance condition two races ago in her first start of the season.

Dig even deeper, and a case can be made for Yes She's Smooth. Her last two races were subpar, but she scored consecutive blowouts over the winter at Fair Grounds.