12/21/2006 1:00AM

Looking to run as closing day approaches


CHICAGO - You know it is getting late in the Chicago racing season when you can make a peace sign with your index and middle fingers and simultaneously show how many horses posted timed workouts on a wet, dreary Thursday morning at Hawthorne Race Course. Tommy G breezed three furlongs, Donnie O went five-eighths - a full crew of sanctioned clockers was not required for this exercise.

But horsemen still are entering plenty of stock for the Hawthorne races. Those people spending the entire winter in Chicago actually are sending horses out with extra urgency, since after this meet concludes Jan. 1, they face several weeks without any chance to earn purse money. Chief among this category of horse are Illinois-breds, and 14 of them - 12 in the body of the field, two also-eligibles - were entered in Saturday's nominally featured eighth race at Hawthorne, an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance race carded for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Leading trainer Frank Kirby has one for Saturday's eighth, War Facts, who lit the tote board at 16-1 winning an Illinois-bred maiden sprint on Dec. 3. Also involved in the Saturday feature is Wayne Catalano, who trailed Kirby by eight wins in the trainer standings after Wednesday's races and claims he lacks the Hawthorne starters to catch up. Catalano sends out Alby, who was claimed from the barn of Christine Janks in late September and finished second of 11 at this class level Dec. 2 in his first start for Catalano. Alby won his maiden in the slop, but has shown in his last two races he handles dry dirt at Hawthorne.

The horse to beat, however, might be Infectious Spirit. Infectious Spirit hails from the barn of trainer John Wainwright, who lacks the numbers to post anything like Kirby's or Catalano's win totals, but who quietly has turned in a solid Hawthorne season, with 9 seconds and 6 thirds to go with 7 wins at the meet. Infectious Spirit overcame a slow break from the rail to win his maiden by three lengths on Nov. 15, but lacked the same kind of finishing punch when stretched out from sprints to a two-turn race Dec. 8. Infectious Spirit had a wide post that day and rallied mildly for third behind runaway winner Hail Victory.

Infectious Spirit even sports that increasingly rare occurrence this time of year in Chicago - a quick workout between races.