12/23/2008 1:00AM

Hawthorne: Lui Luhuk out of comfort zone


It's hard to say how the track surface at Hawthorne Race Course will be playing come Saturday.

Check that: It's hard to say if there will even be a track surface at Hawthorne come Saturday.

See, Hawthorne sits on the edge of Chicago, and Chicago is in the middle of a week of wacky winter weather. Sunday, Hawthorne had to cancel after polar bears were spotted sliding across the infield lagoon. Hey, it was 30 below in the wind - anything was possible. Meanwhile, the Christmas-week dark period turned white - snow Tuesday and Wednesday. But by Saturday, the mercury was forecast to creep up on 50 degrees! With heavy rain possible!

And if you can say exactly what that means for racing here, your input surely will be welcomed by the Hawthorne brass.

Provided conditions are suitable for racing, a second-level sprint allowance will serve as the Saturday feature. Carded as the fourth of 11 races, the six-furlong sprint drew a field of seven horses, and by far the most interesting of them is it is Lui Luhuk.

Lui Luhuk is attempting a class jump that has tripped many before him, the move from restricted Illinois-breds to open allowance company, but this horse might be good enough. In Lui Luhuk's career debut, on Oct. 2, the rider lost his iron, and Lui Luhuk lost all chance, finishing fifth of 12. But 23 days later there was no equipment failure and no doubt about the outcome, with Lui Luhuk home by four lengths. On Nov. 22, Lui Luhuk won even more easily, this time scoring by 5 1/2 in an Illinois-bred entry-level allowance. Saturday, there's not just the class hike to overcome, but a move from outside draws to post 2, which ought to lead to a different kind of trip. Even so, trainer Roy Houghton is not a big one for heavy works, and the fact that Lui Luhuk breezed a sharp half-mile Dec. 18 seems cause for optimism.

Oatman also has a chance, provided he can avoid a pace duel with Priceless Bull and Professional Grade. Churubusco, who rallied for second at this class level Dec. 5, looks like the best proven closer, but hasn't worked since his last start.