11/19/2004 12:00AM

Muddy track may tilt race in Bella Cobra's favor

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STICKNEY, Ill. - There is no real featured race Sunday at Hawthorne, just tangle after tangle, knot after knot of difficult handicapping. The puzzles begin in the first race and run right through the two allowance races on the nine-race program: the seventh, an open entry-level allowance, and the eighth, a second-level allowance restricted to statebreds.

Chicago has temporarily turned into the Pacific Northwest, with a persistent drizzle falling the last few days. That kind of weather is forecast to hold through Saturday night, and races were moved off turf and onto a sloppy main track Friday.

Not that the Sunday card needs any further complications.

Nine fillies and mares were entered in the seventh, a first-level allowance carded for 1 1/16 miles, and somehow, they all end up looking the same.

Bella Cobra was favored at just over even money in a race similar to this one two weeks ago, and she may wind up the betting choice again, especially if the race goes in mud, her preferred surface. To some, however, Bella Cobra's form appears to have come to a quick peak in recent weeks, and what goes up must come down. The mild selection is the stretchout sprinter Dash of Humor, who could lead a long way if allowed to control a slow pace.

Among the statebreds in the eighth, another route race, are many horses with pace. Hello My Friend and Turbulent Thinking could get positive setups if either one is good enough to win. On talent alone, Gowithfate might be the horse for the eighth, but she will have to run better than she did Oct. 21, when she finished 10th in a Lone Star sprint allowance race.

Horsemen discuss issues with Duch

Representatives of Illinois Thoroughbred horsemen have smoothed out their differences with Hawthorne racing secretary Gary Duch, and the Illinois Racing Board is likely to approve Duch for the 2005 season at its December meeting.

At the November IRB meeting, Joe Kasperski, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associa-tion, told the Board that horsemen had concerns with Duch, who has served as racing secretary here since 1997. In an interview several days after that meeting, Kasperski said some of his membership felt Duch was acting unprofessionally, and that some horsemen felt they were being treated unfairly. The IRB confirmed appointments of racing officials at the state's tracks at the November session, but the Board agreed to an ITHA request that they hold Duch's 2005 confirmation pending resolution of the horsemen's concerns.

ITHA officials, Hawthorne management, and Duch held a formal meeting Monday and came out of the conference with an understanding.

"We've ironed out our differences, and we don't have any objection to him," Kasperski said. "We got his attention, and that's what we needed to do."

Duch, who said he'd received support from many individual horsemen, said he and Kasperski "had cleared the air on a lot of things."

"The meeting was very productive regarding the direction we're going," Duch said. "I think it really was just kind of a lack of communication."

Extra turf races expected

Unseasonably warm weather could extend the Hawthorne grass-racing season. Grass races have been written into the Hawthorne condition book through Nov. 21, but the racing office will continue writing so-called "extra" races as long as possible, according to assistant general manager Jim Miller.

"Right now, the plan is to go through the week of the 28th," Miller said. "But we'll continue to use extras until we get our first deep freeze."

Last year, turf racing lasted until the first week of December.

- Training was canceled here Friday morning because of wet conditions. Hawthorne's track was, however, ready for Friday racing, and training was expected to resume Saturday morning.

Back to turf for Platinum Ballet

Platinum Ballet, who closed from well back to defeat older rivals in the slop in an optional claimer, gets the chance to return to turf and racing with straight 3-year-olds in the Remington Park Oaks.

The one-mile Oaks includes Star's Kandi Kane, third last out in the $40,000 Black Mesa, and Sapphires N Halos, who just missed in an optional claimer on turf Oct. 14.

- The forecast for Sunday is possible showers with a high of 54. First post is 1:15 p.m. Central.