03/17/2008 11:00PM

My Best Pal Red signals return of power partners

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STICKNEY, Ill. - When My Best Pal Red starts in the featured seventh race on Thursday at Hawthorne, he will be trainer Wayne Catalano's second Chicago starter of the season. There is good reason to believe that Catalano and owner Frank Calabrese will send out a few more horses in the coming months.

Catalano, training almost exclusively for Calabrese now, won 74 races at Arlington last season, nearly doubling the next-highest win total among trainers there. Catalano and Calabrese made a surprisingly strong showing at the Hawthorne fall-winter meet, and have continued rolling this winter at Gulfstream, where Catalano's 19 wins through Monday placed him in a three-way tie for third among trainers there.

"I don't know how we do it, but we do it," Catalano said, reached by phone on Tuesday. "We've had a great winter."

Catalano has so far sent 10 horses to Hawthorne, and there are more to come. He has some 20 horses still at Gulfstream, and in April will be split three ways, with horses in Florida, Chicago, and Kentucky. The cream of Catalano's stock - horses like Dreaming of Anna and Lewis Michael - will be housed at Keeneland, with Catalano running what he can at Gulfstream and sending lesser horses for whom there doesn't appear to be a Florida race to Hawthorne.

That is exactly the way things went down with My Best Pal Red, who hasn't started since Oct. 12 at Keeneland. Catalano said he entered My Best Pal Red in a $62,500 claimer at Gulfstream, but the race failed to fill. So, My Best Pal Red was shipped last week to Hawthorne, where he runs Thursday in a second-level allowance race over six furlongs.

"I figured he's good enough to win a two-other-than in Chicago right now," Catalano said.

Much of the time that would be true, and My Best Pal Red - who has been breezing like clockwork - is an obvious contender Thursday. But to win, he will have to overcome a potentially negative pace scenario, and the presence of sharp Fair Grounds shipper Brahms Lullaby.

Brahms Lullaby won an entry-level allowance race here in September, and on Feb. 21 at Fair Grounds he gave the speedy Shark all he could handle in a second-level sprint allowance at Fair Grounds. While My Best Pal Red could be under the gun from the start breaking from post 1, Brahms Lullaby is favorably drawn on the outside in a seven-horse field.

Coach Jimi Lee's '08 debut will wait

Coach Jimi Lee did not suffer his first loss on the Hawthorne racing surface last weekend, but neither did he run his local record to 5 for 5. Instead, Coach Jimi Lee was scratched from a high-level allowance race on Saturday in what was to have been his first start at age 8.

Coach Jimi Lee - for whom trainer Jim DiVito had no specific plans as of Tuesday - holds the Hawthorne track record for six furlongs, but no track records were being set Saturday at Hawthorne. On an afternoon when inside-speed horses faltered race after race, times were slow on the Hawthorne dirt. High Expectations, a prime player in the Illinois-bred sprint-stakes division, won the six-furlong allowance race from which Coach Jimi Lee was scratched in a pedestrian 1:12.13.

DiVito's starter in the race, the 3-5 favorite Piratesonthelake, contested a slow 46.30-second half-mile pace while racing along the rail, and wound up finishing last of four, beaten some 11 lengths. Mighty Rule, the second choice, was lapped on Piratesonthe-lake, and tired to finish a distant third.

There was only one winning favorite on Saturday's nine-race program. By Monday, outside paths still appeared to be more favorable than the fence, but adjustments clearly had been made, since there were six winning favorites that day.