04/07/2006 11:00PM

No easy winners on this program

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STICKNEY, Ill. - From a handicapping perspective, Monday's racing program at Hawthorne Race Course seems worthy of a fairly astute thinker. Maybe Albert Einstein, or Sir Isaac Newton.

It is a brain-crusher of a nine-race card, and the three allowance races that finish off the day offer for the most part no respite. If your bankroll can hang on until race 9, and you like to play chalk, the day well might end with favored Political Hostage in the winner's circle, but even that is far from a certainty.

The ninth is the second division of a split entry-level Illinois-bred allowance race, and at least Political Hostage will give bettors a little something to hang onto. She was beaten here March 19 at odds of 1-2 in a race much like Monday's, but Political Hostage was making her first start in a few months that day, brought a light Kentucky work tab to Chicago for her 2006 debut, and got into serious trouble on the backstretch to boot. She finished fourth, but should substantially improve in this start for trainer Nick Canani.

If Political Hostage loses as the favorite for the third straight time, either Love Handles, who at least comes off a win, or Dr. Nicole, who was claimed out of her last race and is stretched out to two turns for the first time in her career, is the most likely winner.

Race 7, the first division of the split Illinois-bred route allowance, looks completely inscrutable. Summer Range exits a second-place finish in the same kind of race, and at least ran okay March 19 when stretched out to two turns by trainer Frank Kirby off a long string of sprint races. If not Summer Range, then who knows, and those playing the late pick four may have to do some serious spreading in this race.

The eighth is an open entry-level allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs and it, too, is difficult to figure. Start with this question: Who will be the favorite? Maybe Runaround Johnnie, who finished third in a similar race here March 21. Runaround Johnnie, based at Fairmount Park with trainer Eddie Essenpreis, took advantage of an inside-speed bias to win a conditioned claimer here Feb. 25, but broke slowly and rallied from eighth for his third-place finish last time out.

Shakespearean Story hasn't raced since late November, but has twice won races at Hawthorne coming back from layoffs. Or, take your pick from a smorgasbord of horses turning back in distance, shipping in from Kentucky, or jumping up in class from a variety of conditioned claimers. It's that kind of day.