03/08/2013 5:57PM

Hawthorne: Hogy could wind up on the lead

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STICKNEY, Ill. – The bad news is that only 63 horses were entered on Sunday’s nine-race card at Hawthorne, the fourth day of the first four-day racing week of the 2013 season here. The good news is that among those 63 are the best horses to make an appearance since racing resumed here after a midwinter break on Feb. 15.

Race 7, a no-conditions allowance race carded for six furlongs on the main track, is the highest-class race so far this meet. An Illinois-bred second-level route allowance, race 5, also is decent, though both higher-end allowance races – like most of Sunday’s card – came up light in terms of entries.

The featured seventh matches two former claimers, Hogy and Francois, who changed hands under vastly different circumstances. Hogy was the most expensive claim of the 2012 Chicago racing season, luring an $80,000 claim slip from owner-breeder Bill Stiritz when previous connections entered Hogy under a claiming option in an allowance race last Nov. 1. The claim price can’t come close to being recouped Sunday, when Hogy will be favored to take home the winner’s share of a $34,000 purse, but Hogy has a decent chance to at least pay for himself.

In his only post-claim start last fall, he finished second to Southern Dude, a fast winner of a Fair Grounds allowance race Thursday, and as this year progresses, trainer Scott Becker figures to have multiple surface options for Hogy. Hogy is an all-weather-surface stakes winner, has shown solid form on wet and dry dirt, and, in the race from which he was claimed, ran his turf record to 3 for 3 with a strong closing victory in a grass sprint. Hogy typically sits just off the pacesetters in his races, but could wind up on the lead Sunday in a race populated by route horses and a couple of closing sprinters.

Francois, meanwhile, was claimed for less than one-tenth the price paid for Hogy. Owner Kenneth Fishbein and trainer Charlie Bettis claimed him June 29 at Arlington for just $7,500, with Francois going on to prove one of the sharpest claims of the 2012 Chicago season.

Francois won a claimer, a first-level allowance, and an overnight stakes race in his first three races after the claim, and raced through December maintaining solid form. He is not as much a pure sprinter as Hogy, however, and might have trouble keeping pace with that quicker foe Sunday