12/11/2008 1:00AM

Ideal spot for Summer's Empire


STICKNEY, Ill. - If the Jim Edgar Futurity had been a one-turn Arlington Polytrack race this past summer, it probably would have seemed unfathomable. But at two turns on the dirt course at Hawthorne, Saturday's $100,000 Edgar appears to have a standout.

Summer's Empire lost his first three races, and was beaten by several of his Edgar foes in one-turn miles at Arlington. But this fall at Hawthorne, stretched out to true route distances, and running over a dirt surface, Summer's Empire has come to life, winning an Illinois-bred maiden race in a good time in October, and overcoming trouble to take an open entry-level allowance route by more than six lengths on Nov. 19. If Summer's Empire holds that kind of form, the Edgar should be his.

"He's doing great," Tony Mitchell said Thursday of Summer's Empire's 24-day period between starts. "He breezed well [Sunday], and he's full of himself. Things are looking very good this morning."

There are nine other Illinois-bred 2-year-olds in the 1 1/16-mile Edgar, and if Summer's Empire is not the right one, the race is thrown totally wide open. Last Demand was no match for Summer's Empire in October, but won a two-turn maiden race Nov. 12 by 1 1/2 lengths. Charter Class looked good in his first two starts during mid-summer at Arlington, seemed to tread water for a few races, but showed renewed vigor staying on for second behind Summer's Empire in the Nov. 19 allowance race.

Summer's Empire is an Illinois-bred in name only. He is by the promising young sire Empire Maker, and was produced by owner Richard Otto's graded-stakes-winning mare Summer Mis. Summer Mis won early in her 2-year-old season, and had more speed than her 2-year-old colt does, and Summer's Empire might take more after his route-loving sire, beaten by Funny Cide as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

And in that vein, the Chicago weather report tilts in Summer's Empire's favor. Frozen fast on Wednesday and Thursday, the Hawthorne dirt track helped along inside speed horses and played fast, but by the weekend, temperatures were forecast to rise well above freezing. That would loosen up the track, and help an off-the-pace horse like Summer's Empire get a fair shot.

Jesse Campbell, based at Fair Grounds, will fly in to take the call on Summer's Empire, a horse he never has ridden.

"Jesse's a really strong rider, and this horse can get a little lazy on you," Mitchell said.