03/13/2003 12:00AM

Hawthorne: Tommy Cat returns

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A couple of horses who skipped out on the frigid Chicago weather are among a handful of contenders in the $40,000 Ides of March Stakes, the Saturday feature at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Ill.

Tommy Cat, recently back from a winter in south Florida, and Fighting Indians, who wintered in Louisiana, could vie for favoritism in a well-matched field of seven in the Ides of March, a 1 1/16-mile race carded as the eighth of nine races.

Tommy Cat, back in the barn of Larry Rivelli after wintering at Gulfstream with Jimmy DiVito, figures to be much more of a factor than in his lone race at Gulfstream. Never a serious contender in an allowance race in late February, Tommy Cat should be far more prominent when stretching out to two turns Saturday. E.T. Baird, who rode Tommy Cat to three straight wins last fall after the gelding was claimed by Rivelli, has the mount.

Fighting Indians, trained by Charlie Bettis, was a loyal participant in the annual series of handicaps at Fair Grounds, finishing fourth in the Louisiana and Diplomat Way, then seventh in the Whirlaway. Upon returning to Chicago, he should find the competition considerably lighter. Among the horses who finished ahead of him in Louisiana were Mineshaft, Balto Star, and Bonapaw.

Rounding out the Ides of March field are: Stormy Impact, Fourth Floor, Fight for Ally, Saquache, and Meadowminer.

This is the third Saturday of a meet that officially is known as the National Jockey Club-at-Hawthorne meet. The first six-figure stakes of the meet is the $100,000 Lady Hallie March 29.

The biggest race of the meet, the $500,000 Illinois Derby, is set for April 5.