03/19/2005 12:00AM

He's Hammered's last is troubling


CHICAGO - As it turned out, nobody was going to beat favored Cat Tracker in the featured seventh race March 4 at Hawthorne, but the one who looked as if he could give Cat Tracker a battle, He's Hammered, never really got involved. As Cat Tracker drew away in the stretch, He's Hammered faded, while Coping turned in a decent run to finish second.

Which begs the question: How good was He's Hammered's blowout win here last December?

The question is pertinent because He's Hammered, Coping, and three others are entered Tuesday at Hawthorne in the featured first race, a fourth-level route allowance with a $50,000 claiming option.

Now a 5-year-old, He's Hammered spent most of his career as a one-run, one-turn dirt horse for trainer Chris Block and a group of owners. Late last year, however, when he fell into the claiming ranks, He's Hammered switched to two-turn racing, and when trainer Mike Reavis claimed him for $35,000, He's Hammered responded with a 4 3/4-length third-level allowance win Dec. 18. It looked as if he might have been reborn as a route horse.

But the way He's Hammered finished in his comeback race March 4, one wondered if he was better at shorter distances after all. Reavis has readied much of his stock for sharp tries in their first race of the season, and only if He's Hammered needed a start for fitness will he contend for the win Tuesday.

Coping, in fact, looks like he might be the horse for this 1 1/16-mile race. Coping changed hands via claims four times last season, a mark of the flashes of higher-level ability he has shown at various points in his career. Now he resides in the barn of trainer Hector Magana, who won an overnight stakes here Friday and has sent out live horses throughout the early part of this meet. Coping is no speed-demon, but he has enough early foot to track the race's lone speed, Big Glori, a one-dimensional pace horse prone to stretch implosions. In the March 4 race, Big Glori was up by three on the backstretch and finished sixth, beaten 14 lengths.

The new shooters are Garesche, a useful Illinois-bred who makes his first start since Nov. 13, and Le Jester, a close second last out in a $25,000 claiming race from which he was taken by the hot trainer Roger Brueggemann.