04/26/2012 3:46PM

Hawthorne: Denham seeks repeat in Milwaukee Avenue

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Denham has not won a stakes since he captured the 2011 Milwaukee Avenue Handicap last spring at Hawthorne, but his turn might be coming again. At 12-1 on the morning line, Denham merits a long look as he tries to score a Milwaukee Avenue repeat in the last of six $125,000 Illinois-bred stakes races Saturday at Hawthorne.

Six-year-old Denham, one of 11 entrants in the Milwaukee Avenue, a one and one-sixteenth mile dirt race, has versatility for owner-breeder Kenneth Hutchens. His resume includes six wins on fast dirt tracks, two wins on wet dirt, two more Polytrack victories, and another four wins in turf races. It wasn’t until the winter of 2010-2011, however, that Denham became a player among the upper-level Illinois-bred ranks, and some might view his last Milwaukee Avenue win as a career peak, never to be reached again. In four subsequent stakes, Denham has finished eighth, fifth, fifth, and sixth. But Saturday’s race marks the first time in a year that he comes into a two-turn dirt race – Denham’s best situation – with adequate preparation. Trainer Tom Dorris couldn’t find a prep race for Denham before the Bucks Boy Stakes here last fall, and his performance suffered because of it. Denham’s most recent start, a distant sixth-place finish April 7 in the Cryptoclearance Stakes, has the look of a setup for the Milwaukee Avenue.

The one-two-three finishers of last fall’s Bucks Boy, Big Looie, Racing Bran, and Color Me Blue, also are among the entrants. Big Looie rates a slight edge among that trio. He has a second and a fourth in two open-company races during the Hawthorne meet and might well be ready to take a step forward.

Color Me Blue faced top handicapper Alternation in his two most recent starts but is marooned on the far outside in post 11. Racing Bran has the rail and exits an Oaklawn Park win, but at age 7 he seems generally in decline.

Trainer Chris Block has three horses for the race, and neither Table Games, Hope for Today, and even Knight after Knight should be overlooked.

Edge to River Bear in Molaro

While the Milwaukee Avenue has a familiar cast, the Robert S. Molaro is composed mostly of players new or only briefly exposed to the Illinois-bred sprint stakes division. The exception is the veteran sprinter River Bear, and the Molaro looks like his race for the taking.

Seven-year-old River Bear took a tough nose loss in the 2011 Molaro, and while second last fall in the Lightning Jet Stakes, he ran well after breaking from post 1 and making a middle move into a hot pace. River Bear comes off a sharp open allowance victory here April 4 and has since turned in a bullet half-mile drill for trainer Leroy Hellman.

Four Left Feet got a great setup en route to victory in the Lightning Jet last fall and could do no better than fifth in River Bear’s recent allowance-race win. Front-running Luck With a Kiss raced for a $35,000 claiming price March 11 in his first start at age 4 but is well drawn on the outside Saturday and owns a pair of age-restricted stakes wins over the Hawthorne surface.

Report Card seeks first stakes win

Report Card, working on a three-race winning streak, tries to win his first stakes in the Land of Lincoln, a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds.

Seventh on debut last year, Report Card won two straight last fall at Hawthorne and kicked off his 3-year-old campaign with a smart one and one-half length victory over older allowance horses April 7 at Hawthorne. Report Card has drawn the rail and appears to be the controlling speed in the Land of Lincoln.

Sweet Luca and Feels Like Flying, one-two in the Sun Power Stakes last fall at Hawthorne, represent the main competition. But Sweet Luca makes his first start in six months while Feels Like Flying’s best races might come later in the year over the turf and synthetic racing surfaces at Arlington.

Third Chance vs. Our Lady in Red

Third Chance was named the Illinois champion 3-year-old filly of 2011, but she has never beaten Our Lady in Red, and the matchup between those two 4-year-olds should produce the winner of the Governor’s Lady, a female-restricted six-furlong sprint.

Our Lady in Red won the Pretty Jenny and Purple Violet Stakes last season, and although she’s unstarted since last August, the filly has been working steadily for this race since late winter at Fair Grounds. Drawing the rail complicates Our Lady in Red’s task, but she might rate enough to come from behind a few speed horses, Third Chance among them.

Third Chance ended her 2011 season with a pair of sixth-place finishes in open company, but she dominated the Powerless Handicap last fall at Hawthorne in her most recent Illinois-bred start.

◗ America’s Blossom is the pick to upset Dundalk Dust and Pathway in the Peach of It, a two-turn dirt race for older fillies and mares.

◗ Our Domain probably will be favored to win the Pretty Jenny, a 3-year-old filly sprint, but Class Break beat her last fall, albeit at a route distance.