03/08/2006 12:00AM

Meadow Bride sizzles in six-furlong workout

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Richard Hazelton has shipped horses north for the spring racing season via airplane, trailer, and train, but that was back in the old days, when Hazelton would go home to the Southwest for the winter after he had finished loading up barrels of purse money during the warmer months.

Hazelton turned 75 last September, and now he winters on the Hawthorne backstretch, but most mornings - even these chill March mornings - he can still be found out on the racetrack aboard his pony. On Tuesday, he was out to watch Meadow Bride turn in a powerhouse six-furlong work, preparing for her first start in 2006. Meadow Bride was timed in 1:13, more than three seconds faster than the next-quickest work at the distance - and now all Hazelton needs is a place to run her.

Meadow Bride was very impressive winning the Illini Princess Handicap here last November in her final start of 2005, and she comes into this season sitting atop the statebred route division. There's an Illinois-bred race for her here April 29, and Hazelton wants to get Meadow Bride started before then, but as of now his only real option is a sprint allowance on March 18.

"I don't want to run her three-quarters, and she'll probably get beat, but I probably will run anyway," Hazelton said.

Meadow Bride, a winner in half her 12 starts, is only 4, and seemed to find herself the second part of 2005. Hazelton said she battled foot problems last year, and raced with patches on her hoof most of the season. "Right now, I think she's as good as she's ever been," he said.

Hazelton's not doing badly himself. Through Monday, he had four wins from 15 starts, putting him one victory behind a logjam atop the trainer standings. "For me, that's pretty good," Hazelton said, which was fairly funny, considering Hazelton is closing in on 3,000 career victories.

Maiden winners to watch

There were a couple noteworthy Illinois-bred 3-year-old maiden winners last week, and Hazelton had one of them, a filly named Sun Hat, who won Friday's second race by nine lengths in her career debut. Hazelton never likes to publicly tout his young horses, and he made no exception for Sun Hat, merely saying, "She beat a bad bunch."

Sun Hat is by Vicar out of the good broodmare Cashelmara, and Hazelton said the filly had "acted like she could really run."

"She had little problems last year, and I didn't want her to run her early," Hazelton said. "She won the right way the other day."

Sun Hat earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 70 for her victory, but the really fast maiden winner came Saturday, when a gelding named Rochester Cat won by more than 13 lengths, in a six-furlong time of 1:10.60 on a day when the track was dull. Fast time, slow track - and a 94 Beyer Figure.

"We're hoping for big things from him," said trainer Andy Hansen.

Rochester Cat raced three times last year, finishing 11th, fifth, and fourth, but he has matured since his 2-year-old season, and Hansen said that removing Rochester Cat's blinkers had helped immensely.

"He was real green last year," Hansen said. "The first time the jock went to hit him at Arlington, he almost dropped him. He would run up to horses and if he stuck his head in front, he thought he was done. He did that twice on me last fall. We took his blinkers off, and it really seemed to pick his head up."

If Rochester Cat handles the jump to entry-level allowance company, he could show up in an Illinois-bred stakes race in late April, Hansen said.

* Creative Force, winner of the Jim Edgar Futurity over this track last December, has shipped north from Florida and on Monday recorded his first Hawthorne work of the season, breezing six furlongs in 1:16.40. An open allowance prep for the Illinois Derby is schedule for Monday, and trainer Chris Block earlier indicated that Creative Force could show up in that race.

* The 6-year-old Illinois-bred champion Julie's Prize died of an apparent heart attack on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs after finishing fifth in a stakes race. Bred and owned by Richard Otto, and trained throughout her career by Tony Mitchell, Julie's Prize won seven races and more than $441,000 during a career that spanned five seasons.