11/12/2007 12:00AM

Margie Marie back on dirt for sprint

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Canterbury Park is a summer racetrack with a hard, fast racing surface, while Hawthorne Race Course conducts fall and spring Thoroughbred meets, often racing over a loose, laboring racing surface. But what the two tracks have in common is a traditional dirt surface, and that may be the key factor for Margie Marie in the featured seventh race here Wednesday.

Margie Marie did notch an 11-1 upset in her career debut over Arlington's synthetic racing surface in June, but it is her lone dirt start, on Aug. 3 at Canterbury, that appears to be Margie Marie's high-water mark. There, as the 4-5 favorite in an entry-level allowance race, she dueled on a quick pace, put away the other speed, and drew off to a 5 1/2-length victory, running six furlongs in 1:09.80 over a track not playing extremely fast.

Six weeks later, Margie Marie was a close, troubled fifth back at Arlington, and on Oct. 31, she faded to last of eight in a Hawthorne second-level allowance race contested on turf, over which Margie Marie appeared to struggle. But Wednesday, in another second-level sprint allowance, it's back to dirt for Margie Marie - and perhaps back to the winner's circle.

There are eight others, however, in a competitive event, and Margie Marie probably can't afford a taxing speed duel with other front-runners like Little Boot, Jay's Princess, and Renee's Regent. If the pace gets too hot, it could set the race up for one of two Moises Yanez-trained Illinois-breds, Sharp Surprise or Appeal With Zeal, or for Powder River, who graduated from the entry-level allowance ranks in her most recent start. A 41-1 shot on Oct. 18, Powder River stalked a hot pace from the rail, came through at the top of the stretch, and won by more than eighth lengths - a tremendous margin for an $84.40 winner.

Weather affecting racing surface

It was 65 degrees on Monday afternoon in Chicago, but the Hawthorne racing surface already is going through the difficulties occasioned by winter racing. Temperatures were below normal early last week, forcing Hawthorne to limit the amount of water it put on the track, according to trackman Greg Cardenas. The surface played slow Wednesday, slower Thursday, and by Friday, it was about as deep and tiring as a dirt racetrack can get.

More water was added to the track Wednesday and Thursday, and about a quarter-inch of surface was scraped off the top of the track and pushed to the outside on Saturday morning. The surface had quickened modestly by racing Saturday, and by Sunday it was producing fractional and final times that could be considered normal. With help from the weather, those conditions should persist into this week, too.

Ciao impresses for Kirby

Frank Kirby isn't just leading the Hawthorne trainer standings - he has become a recent force in graded turf stakes across North America. Cloudy's Knight won the Grade 1 Canadian International last month, and on Saturday at Churchill, Ciao finished second by a half-length in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere. Ciao looked like a winner in upper stretch, charging from the back of the field after moving wide around the far turn, but favored Bit of Whimsy turned her back in the final half-furlong.

"I thought when they turned for home she might do it," Kirby said. "The other filly had something left."

Ciao, clearly over the prerace jitters that hampered her performance this summer, is back at Hawthorne, and will move to Kirby's farm Tuesday "for a week or 10 days," he said. Ciao could still make another start this year, though Kirby hasn't looked for a specific race yet.

"She came out of the race really good," he said.