03/26/2005 12:00AM

'Humor' tops split sprint


STICKNEY, Ill. - There were 16 horses entered in a second-level sprint allowance race for Illinois-breds on Tuesday's program at Hawthorne, enough to split the bunch into two races. Seven horses in the first division drew the short straw, since they must face Humor at Last, who floundered in deep going when he finished fourth in an open two-turn stakes here two weeks ago, but spanked statebred competition in his two sprint starts last season at age 2.

Humor at Last might have been prepping for the Illinois Derby right now had he shown more March 12 in the Flag Officer Stakes. Favored at odds of 1-2 after starting his 3-year-old season with a good third in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, Humor at Last showed none of his typical early zip; he trailed a soft pace by several lengths on the backstretch, and never really made a move.

"To the experienced eye, it was obvious he wasn't getting a hold of the track," said trainer Tony Mitchell. "What he needs is a fast track. He's a horse that kind of needs to hear his feet rattle."

The Hawthorne racing surface remains deep, but not so deep that Humor at Last hasn't trained well over it, and some rain and light snow last week brought about a much-needed tightening.

"We got a break from Mother Nature there," Mitchell said.

Humor at Last might yet end up a route horse, but so far he has shown his best running short. He scored at first asking here last fall, winning by seven lengths over Win Me Over, who would go on to be named champion Illinois 2-year-old of 2004. In the $90,000 Sun Power Stakes, he easily handled the talented colt Stormy Afternoon, the strong favorite.

"He could use a confidence builder right now, so let's stick with statebreds," said Mitchell. He will aim Humor at Last for the Land of Lincoln on April 30.

The comeback horse Dusty Adams is the selection in the second division, which goes as race 8. Trained by Brian Williamson, who has had a good two-week run, Dusty Adams makes his first start since July 11, when he captured an entry-level statebred allowance at Arlington. Dusty Adams has fired fresh before, with a debut win over this track last spring.