10/30/2002 1:00AM

Now is time for Chicago horsemen

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Less than a week ago the Breeders' Cup swept through Chicago, bringing the world's best racehorses to Arlington Park. The shift in scene could hardly be more radical, as Chicago racing returns Friday to Hawthorne in heavily industrialized Stickney, where it remains for the rest of the season.

The surroundings may not attract an international audience, but Hawthorne has its place in the regional scene. Urban Hawthorne is easier for city folks to reach than suburban Arlington, and local horsemen find it easier to reach the winner's circle here.

"With the Kentucky boys all going back home, it should be a little easier," said trainer Ron Goodridge.

Like many other year-round Chicago trainers, Goodridge treaded water during much of the Arlington meet, and has prepped a good deal of his barn for the Hawthorne opening. "The condition book here is written a little differently. It should be easier to win a race," he said.

The races trainers try to win here divide the lower class levels more thoroughly than at Arlington. For instance, there are no nonwinners-of-three claimers at Arlington, but there are many at Hawthorne. Low-level maiden claimers and statebred races are in great supply, while high-priced claimers and stakes races are rare. First-level allowance races at Hawthorne's fall meet often go to sharp claiming horses from various levels, while all the allowance conditions are eligible to be won by horses who have struggled through the summer.

Friday's opening-day feature, a third-level sprint allowance for fillies and mares, is a case in point. None of the nine runners entered has outstanding credentials, though such horses as Feminine Fury and Cauy have recently turned in solid efforts.

Bettors will find that what Hawthorne may lack in quality, it often makes up for in quantity. Friday's program features seven races with 12 entrants, and there is depth throughout the card.

Led by the Hawthorne Gold Cup - run in May this year - Hawthorne's fall meet used to feature several noteworthy stakes. Some of those may make a comeback next year, when the fall-winter meet gets off to an earlier start. But this season, even with five-day racing weeks from now through Jan. 1, only one open stakes is scheduled, Saturday's Carey Memorial, which should attract a field of about eight.

Nov. 9 is Illinois Day, with six statebred races in various divisions, all carrying $75,000-added purses. The Dec. 14, $100,000 Illinois Breeders' Debutante for 2-year-old statebred fillies and the Dec. 21, $100,000 Jim Edgar Futurity for statebred 2-year-old males fill out the abbreviated stakes schedule.

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