10/27/2003 12:00AM

King Cielo can leave rest out in cold


CHICAGO - It was cold and getting colder here Monday afternoon. Around the corner is a long, dark winter - King Cielo's time of year.

King Cielo thrived on the hard, frozen tracks at Hawthorne last winter, winning by almost 10 lengths in one December race, and finishing second to the crack sprinter Talknow in another. Claimed for $50,000 in June by Susan and Walter Kotzman, and now trained by Jan Ely, King Cielo has been campaigned judiciously and comes into Wednesday's featured seventh race here after a two-month freshening, ready for another winter.

There is one sticking point. After Chicago tumbled headlong into deep autumn over the weekend, temperatures were supposed to begin rising again Tuesday. King Cielo won't get the wintry racing surface on which he thrived a year ago, but he may still be good enough to beat eight opponents in an excellent fourth-level allowance. Contested at 6 1/2 furlongs, the race also is open to $50,000 claimers.

King Cielo thrived here last winter because of his speed, and that remains his chief asset. He breaks from post 6 under Eddie Perez, and no horse to his outside can match King Cielo's early foot. That means that even if pace rivals Beverly Greedy and Phoneforchampagne leave the gate running, King Cielo can get an ideal pressing trip. And he has the quality to take advantage. In his final start at Arlington, King Cielo finished second, beaten only by Ethan Man, subsequently second in the Grade 3 Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.

At the other end of the pack is Fighting Indians, a route horse who badly needs a start if he is to make the $100,000 Schaefer Handicap on Nov. 15 at Hoosier Park. A bargain purchase three years ago, Fighting Indians has gone through two very productive periods in his career, including a strong run that began late last fall and stretched into the spring. But Fighting Indians came up with a serious foot infection in May and missed three months of training.

"I started back slowly with him, I got him going pretty good, and then three weeks ago he popped a quarter crack," said trainer Charlie Bettis.

Fighting Indians has the inherent talent to run with the horses he meets Wednesday, but now may not be the time. "I think I got the quarter crack under control," said Bettis, "but I don't know if he can beat the horses in there."

Besides King Cielo, the top true sprinters in the field are Phoneforchampagne, Man o'Rhythm, Bright Valour, and Manitowish.