12/29/2011 4:17PM

Hawthorne: Entry box overflows for final day of meet

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Whatever struggles the Hawthorne fall-winter meet has undergone this year, say this about the 2011 season: It’s going out with a bang.

If full fields are what bettors crave, then bettors would do well to tune into Saturday’s closing-day program at the Chicago-area track, where a whopping 144 horses (including also-eligibles) were entered in 12 races. Almost every race will go with a full gate, and while the card is short on quality, opportunities to make a lot of money on a little bet figure to abound.

The day’s only allowance race offers typical winter Chicago fare: The first-level sprint allowance is comprised almost entirely of former or future claimers seeking to knock out an allowance condition now that the true allowance-class runners have gone south for the season. Misfired and Code of Kings, two-three in a race like this Dec. 14, have kept the highest-class recent company. Misfired has raced only once for a claiming price, winning a $25,000 maiden-claimer early in the meet, while Code of Kings shows improving form lines following a layoff.

In a typical year, both Misfired and Code of Kings would have little chance on a New Year’s Eve afternoon card. Both are late-running types who, on the usual frozen December tundra known as Hawthorne’s winterized main track, would be bucking a prevailing inside-speed bias. But Chicago right now feels more like southern Arkansas than northern Illinois, and the Hawthorne racing surface has been kind to all types of running styles most of this meet.

Midwest Thoroughbreds dominates

The races for leading owner, trainer, and jockey at the meet essentially were over weeks ago, with the Midwest Thoroughbreds operation of Rich and Karen Papiese the common line of demarcation in all three categories. Midwest had 29 victories through the third race on Thursday’s card, far more than second-place William Stiritz. Midwest’s Hawthorne trainer, Roger Brueggeman, has been killing them all Hawthorne meet long and sat at 49 wins after three races Thursday. And Florent Geroux, who has piloted most of the Midwest winners for Brueggeman, stands on the cusp of his first riding title, having booted home 74 winners entering Thursday’s races.

While Geroux is headed to Oaklawn Park, where he can maintain his Midwest connection, apprentice jockey Constantino Roman, who had a breakout Hawthorne meet with 61 winners through Wednesday, could wind up at Turfway, Oaklawn, or Aqueduct early in 2012, his agent, Tom Morgan, said. Roman’s five-pound apprentice allowance lasts into February.