03/07/2008 12:00AM

Little chill can't stop Hazelton


STICKNEY, Ill. - Facemask blocking the cold Chicago wind, hand-warmers under gloves, and several layers covering his torso, 78-year-old Richard Hazelton rode into his barn late in training hours Friday morning at Hawthorne - just as he has year after year, decade after decade.

Hazelton had been out on the racetrack with his final set of horses that had to train Friday morning. Used to be back in the 1960s or thereabouts that Hazelton would ship a whole barn full of horses to Chicago for this meet from winter quarters in Arizona. For a while, they came by train, and after that by plane. These days, Hazelton's horses stay at Hawthorne all winter, and this was a nasty one.

"It was bad," Hazelton conceded. "Pretty damn cold."

No doubt, Hazelton - who began riding Quarter Horse races in Arizona and Mexico when he was 10 - would come to the track each morning to train a string of bottom-level maiden claimers. But there are some better reasons to get up each morning these days, horses like Copper State, Caruso, and Star by Design.

Copper State ended 2007 looking like she might turn out to be the queen of the of the Illinois-bred two-turn distaff set. She won a second-level Illinois-bred allowance race by more than three lengths and an open third-level allowance race by more than seven to cap her season. And now, Hazelton wonders where he'll be able to run her. A fourth-level allowance around two turns is almost certainly not going to happen, and Hazelton is still trying to figure out the best way to get Copper State to the Illinois-bred stakes day here late in April.

Same kind of thing goes for Caruso, who like Copper State has posted one timed workout as he prepares for his 2008 debut. The sprinter Caruso won the Lost Code and Land of Lincoln stakes at this meet last season, his only two victories of the season. Hazelton also is pointing him to Illinois Day, but would like to find some sort of race before then. Star by Design, who is not Illinois-bred, is farther along than the other two horses, having worked a fast six furlongs here Sunday.

Hazelton has plenty of action during opening week and always sends out live layoff horses during the first Chicago meet of the season. Closing in on 80, he has no trouble getting up for work in the morning - even during the dark, cold Chicago winter.

"I love what I do," Hazelton said. "This is my life."

West Coast Coach euthanized

West Coast Coach, who was the top 3-year-old on the Hawthorne grounds this winter, broke down in a workout about three weeks ago and had to be euthanized, trainer Jim DiVito said Friday.

West Coast Coach fractured a cannon bone while breezing, an injury that was too severe for the talented colt to be saved.

"It's tough," DiVito said. "We'll have to try and rebound."

West Coast Coach won his career debut at odds of 34-1 last summer at Arlington, then captured the Prairie Meadows Freshman Stakes. He finished a close fifth in the $250,000 Favorite Trick Stakes during the Breeders' Cup meet at Monmouth Park, and rebounded to score a narrow win in an open allowance race Dec. 22 at Mountaineer Park. DiVito owned West Coast Coach in partnership with Lee Battaglia.

DiVito still has two other stakes-class sprinters at Hawthorne, and both veteran Coach Jimi Lee and 4-year-old Piratesonthelake worked five furlongs here last Saturday.

Holy Thursday heads sprint allowance

Tough call in the featured seventh race on Sunday's card, but if the racetrack plays similarly to the way it did Friday on opening day, deep closers like Holy Thursday - who may even be favored to win this Illinois-bred second-level sprint allowance - are going to be in trouble.

While inside-speed horses did not win every race opening day, they won several, and horses trying to rally from far back in Hawthorne's long stretch had about no luck at all. That said, the rail-drawn speed horse in the Sunday feature, Afleet Devil, does not look strong enough class-wise to win at this level. He certainly will contribute to an honest pace, however, and stalkers and closers such as Holy Thursday, his stablemate Death Valley, and Kentucky invader Fun With Phil should have a decent shot.

Hawthorne signs with TVG

Hawthorne and Television Games Network announced Friday that beginning immediately Hawthorne will be an exclusive TVG racetrack. The partnership ends Hawthorne's presence on Horse Racing Television, which only broadcast Hawthorne races sporadically last season. Hawthorne signed a three-year deal to become a TVG racetrack.

* Roger Brueggeman has been breezing horses like crazy readying for the start of the Hawthorne season, and it clearly paid off. Brueggeman won with four starters on Friday's nine-race card.