03/03/2005 1:00AM

Layoff ends in sprint for Wildwood Royal

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CHICAGO - Wildwood Royal does her day-to-day work off the beaten path, training in downstate Illinois at Fairmount Park, where horses scratch out meager livings at a race meet dominated by low-level claimers. In fact, the mare's owner, the St. Louis businessman William Stiritz, is the primary investor in a group that purchased Fairmount in 2002.

But Wildwood Royal is no Fairmount racehorse. She has made 26 starts and won 11 of them, earning more than $373,000, including a $203,000 season in 2004. Saturday, she makes her 2005 debut in the Kissapotamus Stakes, the Saturday feature at the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet.

The race is a decent one for a $40,000 overnight race. The seven-horse field also includes the accomplished sprinter Pass the Pepper; Illinois-bred stakes winner Dharma Girl; and Indian Jewel, an easy high-end allowance-race winner three weeks ago at Turfway Park.

The Kissapotamus is Wildwood Royal's if she comes out running after a winter layoff. Purchased for just $12,000 after she failed to meet a $25,000 reserve at a yearling sale, Wildwood Royal developed steadily through her 3- and 4-year-old seasons, winning five races during each campaign while shipping all over the Midwest. Last season, Stiritz and trainer Jimmy Zook kept her mainly at longer distances, but Wildwood Royal has won 2 of 4 starts at the Kissapotamus's six furlongs, and the mare has breezed sharply at Fairmount.

"She likes to route, but she's got some natural speed," Zook said. "I don't mind her sprinting at all. In fact, I kind of like her in there."

Wildwood Royal blew out an easy three furlongs Thursday at Fairmount.

"The boy was just sitting on her," Zook said. "She had her ears pricked." Wildwood Royal will be ridden by Chris Emigh on Saturday.

is indeed a versatile racehorse. She has won seven times on dry tracks, three times on wet tracks, and once on turf, while handling distances from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. She can show controlled route speed, but she can step up her early pace to stay on the front end in sprints, too.

She will find company there Saturday in Pass the Pepper, who won an allowance race here on closing day of the fall-winter meet, Jan. 2. Pass the Pepper might have lost a step from her peak form two years ago, but she remains quick out of the gate and should wind up battling for the lead.

Pass the Pepper is coupled with Dutchie, a once-promising filly who has risen through the class ranks after slipping into mid-level claimers here last season.