12/31/2008 12:00AM

Karlsson reaps rewards for winter workload


STICKNEY, Ill. - When the calendar flips over to 2009, there will be nine racing days left in the Hawthorne fall-winter meet. Nine days for Inez Karlsson to try and hang onto her lead in the Hawthorne jockey standings.

Chris Emigh won three races among the first seven on Wednesday's card, drawing him to within three of Karlsson, 67-64. But at some point soon, working up business for the upcoming Oaklawn Park meet may start to seem more important to the veteran rider Emigh than remaining in Chicago to try and catch Karlsson. And if he does not catch up, Karlsson will have fulfilled the goal she set when she decided to stay in Chicago this fall and winter rather than trying her hand at Aqueduct in the final months of her apprentice allowance.

Karlsson loses her allowance on Jan. 7, but by staying in Chicago, she has put herself in a good position to make the transition. Her business has grown steadily through the year, and Karlsson has grown steadily as a rider. Karlsson won just 16 of 179 races in 2007, but has 161 victories so far in 2008. That's the second-highest total in the country among apprentices. Florida-based Pascacio Lopez, the likely favorite to capture an Eclipse Award as 2008's top apprentice, won 171 races as an apprentice before becoming a journeyman in September.

Karlsson's $3 million in purse earnings rank first among the nation's apprentices, compared with the $2.8 million Abel Mariano, who lost his apprentice allowance in July, compiled riding at slots-rich Philadelphia Park and Lopez's $2.6 million.

Karlsson's back-story is difficult to top. A 25-year-old native of Sweden, Karlsson rode around on Standardbred horses back home, had a fairly successful stint as an amateur boxer, worked jobs as odd as a filling-station attendant, and crossed the ocean emigrating to Canada after leaving the university. She hooked on as an exercise rider at Woodbine, decided she would try to become a jockey, and voila, here we are.

If, superficially, it seems as simple as that, think again. Karlsson has proven to be a tireless worker, and all through an especially brutal early Chicago winter she has made her way onto the gritty Hawthorne backstretch six days a week. Tuesdays are off days. The other six days are for work.

"Hawthorne has been awesome to me, but God, the winters are tough," Karlsson said Wednesday. "I worked horses this morning in 11 degrees. Sweden is cold all the time, but that doesn't mean I like it."

Karlsson and her agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, are going to Florida after Hawthorne wraps up its meet on Jan. 11, but both said this will be more a working holiday than a real effort to make a mark at the Gulfstream meet. Karlsson said she plans to work horses in the morning, make as many contacts as she can, and pick up a mount where she can. The real focus, however, will be the start of the next Hawthorne meet in March, and Karlsson's attempt to make the jump from successful apprentice to established journeyman.

"I guess I might have a problem after I lose my bug, but I don't think so," said Karlsson. "I just take it day by day, and do the best I can."

Four last-out winners in allowance

There actually are three non-claiming races on Friday's 10-race Hawthorne program, a rarity in recent days. Alas, no future stars seem to be evident in any of these races, two for maidens, the third for entry-level Illinois-bred allowance sprinters.

The Illinois-bred allowance, race 6, drew a field of six, four of whom won their most recent start. Hello Again overcame a slow break and won at first asking on Nov. 21 for trainer Moises Yanez; Dangerous Gal scored at odds of 126-1 in an Illinois-bred maiden race Dec. 19; back on Nov. 12, Wildwood Domain won an Illinois-bred $15,000 maiden claimer by almost 10 lengths; and finally, Arctic Eva scored a two-turn Illinois-bred maiden win on Dec. 5.