04/08/2009 11:00PM

Hurta going for fifth win in row

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The $50,000 Bonasera Stakes for older dirt-routers Saturday at Hawthorne takes the place of the Grade 3 Bill Hartack Memorial, which was switched to turf and moved to Hawthorne's fall meet this year. But despite the reduction in purse and status, the race drew a solid field of seven.

Brothers Nicholas finished third in the Grade 3 Mineshaft earlier this year, while Shadowbdancing won two dirt-route stakes in Iowa last year. It's Never to Late scored two dirt-route victories at the fall Hawthorne meet in 2008, while Unbridled Vicar (coupled with less-talented Rector on Saturday) won here last spring. Six-year-old Alcomo will make his United States debut after racing in Brazil and Dubai for his first 16 starts.

They all, however, may be fodder for Hurta, who seeks his fifth straight win in his stakes debut for trainer Tom Tomillo and owner Louis Clarizio III. Hurta is a 6-year-old, but he didn't make his career debut until last Aug. 21 at Arlington, where he showed up for a $10,000 maiden-claiming price, and quickly was snapped up via the claim box by Tomillo and Clarizio. Hurta improved immediately, finishing third in his second start, but lost his first four starts for the Tomillo barn.

Then came a move to Hawthorne and dirt racing, and no horse has come close to Hurta since. He won a maiden race by 8 3/4 lengths, beat entry-level allowance foes by 8 1/2, and finished off the fall-winter meet here with a 10 1/4-length score over second-level allowance rivals. In all three wins, Hurta controlled a slow route pace before drawing away late against suspect competition. But on March 27, making his first start this season, Hurta faced better horses at a six-furlong distance that seemed well short of his best, and won by five anyway.

The Bonasera is another step up in class for Hurta, and in Shadowbdancing and It's Never to Late, he faces two major pace rivals. But like another Tomillo claim from the $10,000 maiden ranks, Lord of the Game, Hurta may actually be a real stakes horse. A win Saturday surely would earn him a shot at a richer pot.

Shadowbdancing lost by 10 lengths in the six-furlong Hula Chief here March 14, but is much better running long. He, however, is drawn inside Hurta and It's Never to Late, and It's Never to Late is a dead front-runner who figures to leave his outside post running. A taxing early pace could set things up for Brothers Nicholas, but that horse shows just one published workout - back on March 1 - since the Feb. 7 Mineshaft.