11/18/2009 1:00AM

Lightning Jet cast reunites for encore


STICKNEY, Ill. - For Chris Block, Hawthorne's multi-stakes day for Illinois-breds Oct. 31 mixed mastery and misery. Block-trained horses swept the top two spots in the Illini Princess Handicap, but the day's last two stakes left a more bitter taste. Fort Prado, making his final career start, performed poorly in the Buck's Boy Handicap, and less than a half-hour later, odds-on favorite Shrewd Operator missed the break and lost all chance in the Lightning Jet Handicap.

Shrewd Operator, had he broken with the field, looked tough in the Lightning Jet, and he looks even tougher in the featured third race here Friday. But the drill is the same as last time: Shrewd Operator is a free-running speed horse, and he needs to get out of the gate in good order to show his best.

Friday's feature, a high-end six-furlong allowance race also open to $100,000 claimers, is written for open company, but five of the six horses are Illinois-breds, and all of them exit the Lightning Jet. Absent is winner Mighty Rule, who doesn't qualify for these allowance conditions, but the second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth horses home in the stakes race return here.

Shrewd Operator wound up sixth on Oct. 31, but had never been in behind horses before the Lightning Jet. A winner in 4 of his 11 career starts, Shrewd Operator has raced mainly on Polytrack, but Block said last month that the horse had no problem getting over dirt. Before breaking last of nine that day, Shrewd Operator never had exhibited any problems at the start, and if he leaves running from post 1 on Friday, there may be no catching him. The gelding's one workout since his stakes disappointment came Sunday, when he went a half-mile in 48.20 seconds, second-fastest of 46 works at the distance.

High Expectations, a top Illinois-bred for five years now, bounced back into form in the Lightning Jet, his typical strong stretch run carrying him into second place at the finish. But there appears to be less pace in Friday's allowance race than there was in the stakes last month, and if true, that works against High Expectations.

Big Rushlet and Southern Vision, fourth and fifth in the Lightning Jet, look very similar in terms of current form; both are a cut below Shrewd Operator and High Expectations at their best. But there might be a sliver of hope for River Bear, who ran below his best form when a flat eighth in the Lightning Jet, and could improve.