05/25/2001 11:00PM

Muchacho Fino, horse for course


STICKNEY, Ill. - Nine days after Chicago Six's disappointing defeat in the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, Muchacho Fino can exact a measure of redemption for the J.R. Smith Sr. barn. The stakes are not as high, but the spot is difficult. Muchacho Fino faces five rivals in a high-class optional claiming route to be contested at 1 1/16 miles.

Muchacho Fino is one of two horses - Spanish Hall is the other - who fits the allowance conditions of the sixth race at Hawthorne. The four others all start for a $75,000 claiming price. In fact, unlike many of Smith's top horses, Muchacho Fino has never run in a claiming race.

Smith, tied for the lead in the trainer standings here through Friday, has developed many top horses after acquiring them through the claiming box. Chicago Six is such a horse, and his rise to prominence in the local handicap ranks came after Smith claimed him for $18,000.

A 7-year-old Pancho Villa horse owned by Seaside Stables and Norwood Ltd., Muchacho Fino is one of Smith's favorite horses. Only a couple of photographs adorn Smith's barn office at Hawthorne, and Muchacho Fino is the subject of one of them. As much as Smith may like Muchacho Fino, the horse likes Hawthorne even more. Muchacho Fino has won 13 races in his career, seven of those over this racing surface.

That is why he has a good chance to win the Memorial Day feature, even though he has not won in his last four starts. But three of those came at the track next door, Sportsman's Park, where Muchacho Fino is nowhere near as proficient. Sportsman's favored speed all through its spring meet this year, and with that in mind, in his last race - an allowance there on April 21 - jockey Chris Emigh kept Muchacho Fino closer to the pace than is typical for the horse. The change in tactics compromised the Muchacho Fino's finish, and he wound up a close fourth. That should only serve to enhance his odds Monday.

Muchacho Fino has worked very well this month . He breaks from post 1 and should get an honest pace to chase with front-runners Fort Metfield and Rocky Robyn breaking to his outside.

Rocky Robyn won the Bosselman-Gus Fonner Handicap at Fonner Park in his start, and would be a danger here if he shakes loose on the lead.

Technocat won the allowance that was Muchacho Fino's last race, and both he and the improving Command Signal also are threats to win.