11/28/2007 1:00AM

Iron Rogue steps up again

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - The calendar may be rolling over to December, the lights are coming on not long past lunch, and by this weekend, the track surface at Hawthorne Race Course may descend into its annual deep freeze. But how about a shout out to the Hawthorne racing office - it is still getting higher-class races to fill.

Two made it onto Friday's card. Race 4, which drew seven entrants, is a $40,000 optional claimer, also open to fillies and mares eligible for third-level allowance conditions, and carded at 1 1/16 miles. Race 8, which got 10 entries, is at the same class level, but has no sex restriction, and will be contested at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The eighth, which includes the Roger Brueggemann-trained entry of Variant and Scary Thoughts, brings out the pro-tem claimer of the Hawthorne meet - Iron Rogue. Second for a $10,000 claiming price on Sept. 2 at Arlington, Iron Rogue has gone on a tear since moving to the Hawthorne dirt. He won by more than five lengths for a $14,000 tag on Sept. 22, was home by 2 1/2 for $18,000 a month later, and on Nov. 8 mowed down $25,000 claiming foes. On Friday, trainer Tom Tomillo starts Iron Rogue under the $40,000 claiming option.

But is this a bridge too far? Maybe, maybe not. Iron Rogue actually won races at a level higher than this when he hit his career peak two seasons ago, and he seemed to have something left in the tank when he scored his most recent win. Iron Rogue's chances would be enhanced by a quick early pace, but there's not that much speed in race 8. Weatherthestorm may go the front from the fence, and Humor at Last should leave from his wide draw, but other than that, most of these horses are stalkers or closers.

Race 4 might be more clear-cut, though it will not appear so on paper to many handicappers. But the pick is Copper State, who has done nothing wrong on the rare occasion she has gotten into a two-turn dirt race. Her first dirt route try came here about a year ago, and in it she won the Pat Whitworth Debutante. Eight races and 11 months later, Copper State finally got her second chance around two turns on dirt, easily winning an Oct. 31 second-level Illinois-bred allowance race. Friday's field presents a greater challenge, but Copper State has posted two solid works between races, and may be ready to move forward.

The horse Copper State will have to beat is another Illinois-bred, Boudoir, who most recently finished third as the tepid favorite in the Nov.o3 Illini Princess Stakes here.