04/09/2008 11:00PM

Local runners face test from invaders

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Saturday's featured fifth race at Hawthorne Park, a $32,000 third-level allowance with a $40,000 claiming condition, provides a testing ground as to how those horses that have raced in Chicago in recent weeks match up against invaders from the south.

Foremost of the four horses in the field with a start at Hawthorne this meet is Mr. Soul, although he has been in Chicago for only about a month. Following two defeats at Oaklawn Park in the winter, he won a second-level allowance by 6 3/4 lengths at Hawthorne on March 14, pushing his record to 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds from 11 starts.

Showing a change in style, he ran off to a 4 1/2-length lead in the early going, was caught by two other rivals leaving the second turn, and then accelerated in the stretch to win going away. His time for a mile and 70 yards was 1:42.85, earning him an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

He may need to run even faster to win Saturday's fifth race, which is at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, against a pair of capable Southern invaders in O'Connells and Rector.

O'Connells, a graded stakes-placed 7-year-old gelding, comes off a close runner-up finish at Oaklawn Park against $37,500 claimers on March 14 and has shown the potential to run as fast as a 100 Beyer.

Rector ships to Chicago by way of Fair Grounds and owns the top last-race figure in the field having earned a 93 Beyer in finishing third in a demanding third-level allowance there March 7. On the basis of that performance, he has been installed as the 5-2 favorite.

Favoritism is likely deserved, in examining the horses he chased at Fair Grounds on March 7. The winner of his last race was Honest Man, a winner of 4 of 7 starts who has three times earned a Beyer of 99 or higher. The runner-up, Stonehouse, is a quality horse as well, having run sixth behind Grasshopper in the Grade 3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds.

What Rector lacks is much speed, which could put him at a disadvantage in a seven-horse field in which Mr. Soul and Holy City appear to be the only front-runners.

Diego Sanchez rides Rector for trainer Greg Geier and owner-breeder Jim Tafel, who raced both Rector's sire, 1999 Florida Derby winner Vicar, and his dam, an allowance mare named Saratogan.

* Saturday's nine-race card also includes a first-level contest that goes as race 8. Lecompass and Little Somethin head the field.