10/28/2010 3:19PM

New face St. Maximus Gato hard to gauge in Bucks Boy


It has been a while since a new face showed up in Chicago from out of state, his connections trying to take advantage of the horse’s Illinois-bred status, but there is just such an entrant in the Bucks Boy Handicap, the last of 10 races and the finale of a six statebred-restricted stakes sequence Saturday at Hawthorne.

The horse is St. Maximus Gato, and Hawthorne horseplayers will have to think hard about how to handle him. On the one hand, St. Maximus Gato has enough ability that he finished third behind multiple Grade 1 winner Lookin At Lucky on Oct. 2 in the Indiana Derby. But to take a contrarian position, he lost five lengths from the stretch call to the finish that day, and is proven neither as a true route horse, nor – since he has started just four times – as an animal with the grit to slog on Hawthorne’s often-demanding main track.

It’s an interesting situation on a fairly interesting Illinois-bred day, with five other stakes worth about $100,000 each preceding the Bucks Boy, which is for older males over 1 1/16 miles. The stakes begin in race 4, with the Showtime Deb for 2-year-old fillies, and, after a turf maiden race, resume in race 6 to fill out the rest of the card. A late pick four, covering the last four races, begins with race 7.

Donald Hunt, St. Maximus Gato’s trainer, operates out of Florida, but came north with his horse the latter part of September with the idea of running in the Indiana Derby and then going on either to an open stakes at Keeneland – from which St. Maximus Gato was shipping to Hawthorne on Thursday – or putting to use the “Ill.” that designates St. Maximus Halo as an Illinois-bred. St. Maximus Gato, a son of Tactical Cat, finished second by a neck in his career debut at Calder before winning a six-furlong maiden race there by 10 lengths.

“By the time I got him we pretty much knew what he was,” Hunt said. “He has done everything right, and he’s held it together right now.”

If not St. Maximus Gato, the Bucks Boy falls wide open. Defending champion He’s Bonafide is entered, but would need to surprise for the second year in a row. Racing Bran won the Milwaukee Avenue under similar conditions here in the spring, but is one of several likely pace factors. Color Me Blue could go overlooked, but is in excellent form and easily won his only previous Hawthorne dirt start.

◗ The Lightning Jet, for male sprinters, features both the old and the new from trainer Christine Janks. The 8-year-old High Expectations has been a player in this race for most of the 21st century, and actually has been breezing strongly for his first start since June. But preferred in the top slot is the other part of a Janks-trained entry, 3-year-old Big Looie, who will try to beat older horses for the first time. Mighty Rule won this race last year, while River Bear seems to save his best for stakes days.

◗ The pair of 2-year-old races are solid this year, with Third Chance a likely odds-on favorite in the Showtime Deb for fillies, and the Sun Power for males a highly competitive spot. Third Chance won an Illinois-bred maiden race by six lengths at first asking, then finished third in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie and second Oct. 9 behind a sharp winner in a Keeneland allowance race.

On the other hand, five horses look capable of winning the Sun Power, a group that includes Hydro Power, likely favorite Uncle Wayne, Ghetto Cat, Luck With a Kiss, and Hero Heart.

◗ Souper Miss has never lost on the Hawthorne main track, and despite a layoff of about seven weeks, she should be ready to handle nine rivals in the Illini Princess for older female route horses. Home’s the Best twice beat Souper Miss at Arlington, and could prove the primary rival again Saturday.

Another layoff horse, Ripe Tomato, figures to be a solid favorite in the six-furlong Powerless, a race she won easily last year, but Wild Hope, an improving 3-year-old who also likes the Hawthorne main track, could pull a mild upset.