10/03/2011 4:00PM

Hawthorne: Wekiva Wachee looks strong in turf dash

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Hawthorne Race Course came into its fall-winter 2011 meet promising improved purses to accompany a healthy horse population, and at this early juncture of the season, Hawthorne has delivered.

Day 3 of the meet, Wednesday’s nine-race program, lured a hefty 103 entrants. Total purses (before bonuses paid to Illinois-breds racing in open competition) come to $195,000, far more than was offered on a typical weekday card here in 2010. And there is even an actual feature Wednesday: Race 9, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for high-end allowance horses or $50,000 claimers, drew an overflow field of 13, with 12 in the race’s main body and capable St. Joe stuck on the also-eligible list.

Hawthorne’s grass course had some give to it over the weekend, but that followed several days of rain last week. This week’s forecast is for sun and more sun, with temperatures rising into the 70s. The course figures to be firming up day by day.

Wet or dry, Wekiva Wachee figures to be formidable in Wednesday’s ninth. A 6-year-old gelding trained by Mike Dini, Wekiva Wachee has sufficient grass-sprint talent that he finished third, beaten a neck, in the $100,000 Arlington Sprint on July 16, his first race in two months, and while he was seventh when shipped to Monmouth for a turf-sprint stakes in August, Wekiva Wachee was beaten just three lengths in that start. Back in allowance competition Sept. 4 at Arlington, Wekiva Wachee finished strongly to win by 1 1/2 lengths at a flat five-furlong trip probably slightly shorter than his best. Since two of Wekiva Wachee’s five wins have come for a claiming tag, he qualifies for Wednesday’s feature under the race’s straight third-level allowance condition. There should be ample speed to set up the gelding’s strong finish, and the long Hawthorne stretch – something Wekiva Wachee will see for the first time – should suit him.

Yankee Injunuity is one of two horses (Live from Apollo the other) to have won on the Hawthorne lawn, and this horse once was a sharp enough sprinter to have won the Arlington Sprint. But it has been a long time since Yankee Injunuity has turned in a strong sprint performance as trainer Jim McMullen stretched him out to short two-turn trips with some success earlier this year.

Royal Express, Tellme All About it, Hold that Broad, Live from Apollo, and First Trumpet all prefer the front end, and the early pace could be taxing.