01/02/2009 1:00AM

Hurta latest good claim by Tomillo


STICKNEY, Ill. - An older horse with some pedigree, claimed out of his career debut for $10,000 by trainer Tom Tomillo. Does that ring any bells? It should, for those were the circumstances surrounding the once-in-a-lifetime claim of Lord of the Game, who went on to win multiple graded stakes and more than a half-million bucks for Tomillo and owner Bill Slevin.

Lord of the Game just launched a comeback from a three-year layoff, trained now in Louisiana by Keith Bourgeois, but he faded badly in an allowance race on Thursday at Fair Grounds. Meanwhile, up in Chicago, a horse named Hurta - claimed by Tomillo out of a $10,000 maiden-claiming debut, and a winner of two straight route races at the ongoing Hawthorne meet by a combined 17 1/4 lengths, is entered on Sunday's card.

"He's a pretty nice horse, and he's been training good, you know," said Tomillo, who trains Hurta for owner Louis Clarizio. "I don't think he'll be a Lord of the Game, but he's all right."

Where Lord of the Game paid immediate dividends, winning the day he was claimed by more than 20 lengths, then capturing four straight races for his new connections, Hurta needed more time. He finished second the day he was claimed, then made four turf starts, losing all of them. But a switch to two-turn dirt racing at Hawthorne has revealed a new animal. Hurta won an off-the-turf maiden special weight race by almost nine lengths, and came back two weeks later to thump entry-level allowance rivals by about the same margin.

By Silver Deputy, Hurta already is 6, and made a belated 5-year-old career debut because he had had surgery on a hock, according to Tomillo. But Hurta is going good now, good enough that he worked a bullet five furlongs on Dec. 29; Tomillo's horses rarely post bullet works, especially in the dead of winter at Hawthorne.

Hurta has six opponents in race 5, a second-level allowance race carded for 1 1/16 miles. He might not make an easy lead the way he did last out, but Hurta might not need to do so.

Surprisingly, the Hurta race does not even qualify as the Sunday feature, a distinction that goes to race 6, a third-level optional $50,000 claiming sprint. This is a rematch between Foxie's Boy and Bud's Bear, the one-two finishers at this same class level on Dec. 13. The Hawthorne track surface might have helped along pace-factor Foxie's Boy that day, and Bud's Bear could turn the tables. Also of note is Aquino, who won a Saratoga allowance race over the summer, but makes his first start in the Midwest and first for trainer Kellyn Gorder.

Summer's Empire heading south soon

Illinois-bred Giant Oak already is at Fair Grounds training toward a start there in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 7. Illinois-bred Summer's Empire is headed down the same road.

Summer's Empire had a strong Hawthorne fall, winning three straight races here in November and December. He entered the meet a maiden, but ended his Chicago season the winner of the $110,000 Jim Edgar Futurity, and is unbeaten on dirt and around two turns.

The water will get much deeper in the Risen Star, but Summer's Empire has a strong pedigree - by Empire Maker and out of the graded-stakes winner Summer Mis - and probably still can develop further.

After his win in the Dec. 13 Edgar, he shipped to trainer Tony Mitchell's farm in Versailles, Ky., and has been kept in light training there. Mitchell said he planned to send Summer's Empire to Fair Grounds about two weeks in advance of the Risen Star.