01/05/2009 12:00AM

Hurta climbs ladder with ease

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Typically, it becomes more and more difficult for an allowance horse to win races as they rise through their conditions. That has not been the case with Hurta, who continues to come on strong - just as the Chicago racing season is coming to an end.

Hurta won his third straight race Sunday, capturing a second-level route allowance even more easily than he had won a maiden race and an entry-level allowance in his two prior starts. Allowed for the second time in a row to set his own pace, Hurta turned for home with a clear lead and widened through the stretch, drawing off to win by more than 10 lengths. Hawthorne's track surface played fast Sunday, but so did Hurta; he was timed in a fine 1:42.40 for 1 1/16 miles, good for a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 92.

Sunday's win alone was worth $16,800, $6,800 more than owner Louis Clarizio and trainer Tom Tomillo claimed Hurta for out of his career debut last August at Arlington. Hurta required a switch to Hawthorne dirt racing to find his stride, but once here, no one has gotten close to him. He does not seem as powerful or fast as another $10,000 debut maiden claim Tomillo made several years ago, that of graded stakes winner Lord of the Game, but Hurta definitely is all right.

The question now for trainer Tomillo: What next? Hawthorne's meet ends Sunday, with a break until March, and this year, for the first time in a long time, Tomillo isn't operating a southern string at Fair Grounds or Gulfstream.

"He's good right now, and you like to run them when then they're good," Tomillo said. "Still, going traveling with just the one horse, I don't know. We're just going to have to wait and see what we're doing. If he stays here, he's not going to miss that much."

Small fields as season winds to close

There is nothing like a second-level allowance race on Wednesday's card, the fifth-to-last in the Hawthorne meeting. In fact, from the look of the three cards this week that already have been drawn, there is not much of anything left on the cold Hawthorne backstretch.

A total of just 67 horses were entered in Wednesday's nine races; that's not much more than seven starters per race, before scratches, and the next two days of racing appear similar. And dig as deep as you want; there is not even the semblance of a nominal feature on the Wednesday program.

In fact, it almost feels like trainer Frank Kirby will be sending out most of the starters Wednesday - which is not all that far from the truth. Kirby has at least one horse entered in eight of the nine races and clearly is making a push for leading trainer. Through last weekend's races, Kirby and Roger Brueggeman both trailed Brian Williamson in the trainer standings, 26 to 25. Williamson has two horses entered Wednesday, while Brueggemann was shut out.

On the jockey's side, Inez Karlsson, who loses her apprentice allowance this week, widened her lead over Chris Emigh, who managed only one winner Saturday and Sunday combined. Karlsson, in her second year of riding and bidding for her first title, had ridden 78 winners through Sunday, giving her a nine-win lead on Emigh entering the meet's final week.