10/16/2006 12:00AM

Options few for Best of Buddies


CHICAGO - At the beginning of the Arlington Park meet, back in May, Best of Buddies tried - and failed - three times to win an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance race. His rapid progression from that point in time to Saturday, when he upset the Hawthorne Derby, can be traced chiefly to one factor - grass. Best of Buddies has decent form on dirt, but on turf he has yet to lose, his four-race winning skein capped off by a narrow victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 race.

This, however, hardly is the height of the turf season. Only because of an unusually wet year is the Hawthorne turf course still looking green, and there are no more turf stakes spots available at this meet for the Hawthorne-based Best of Buddies. So, trainer Michelle Boyce has three choices: send Best of Buddies to Churchill Downs for a Nov. 11 grass race; keep him here in Chicago for a main-track start against older horses on Illinois Day, which falls on the same day as the Churchill race; or call it a season.

"We're still kind of on the fence," said Boyce "Illinois Day would be a possibility, but I really do think he's better on the turf, so I'd kind of lean away from that. We'd certainly give credence to giving him the rest of the year off, too."

Best of Buddies is by Best of Luck and out of a mare by Mister Frisky, hardly a classic turf pedigree, but he won two Illinois-bred allowance races on the Arlington grass, beat older horses in an open third-level allowance at Hawthorne, and just held off the improving Crested in Saturday's race.

It's been that kind of meet for Boyce, who ended last week tied for eighth in the trainer standings with six wins this meet. That number is high considering Boyce had only seven wins the entire year coming into Hawthorne, and had struggled all summer at Arlington. She also won a 2-year-old maiden race last week with a fairly promising horse named Sailfin, and had another 2-year-old maiden, Frankie R., run well in defeat.

"Certainly after the dry spell we had on the other side [of town], it's nice," Boyce said. "I knew I had a lot of horses sitting on ready, and I've always done well at Hawthorne."

Brilliant's excuse: A lung infection

Brilliant, sixth as the strong favorite in the Hawthorne Derby, came out of the race suffering from a lung infection, trainer Neil Howard said. It was nothing horrible, but enough to account for his flat performance in a race most expected to be a waltz after Brilliant had humbled stiffer opposition in his previous start, the Kent Breeders' Cup. On a 5-point scale, trainer Howard estimated Brilliant's infection at a 2.

Howard, however, said the plan was to get Brilliant healthy and race him again this year.

"We'll get him over that lung infection and go on from there," he said. "Maybe one more start, then freshen him up and bring him back for one or two of those races down in New Orleans."

Crucial horsemen's vote coming up

One wouldn't know it from visiting the web site (www.ithainc.com), but this is election season for the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and some active members of the organization would suggest it is an important election season, indeed.

President Joe Kasperski and his executive director, Justin Cassity, have come under fire during the last year from a vocal segment of horsemen, led by former ITHA executive director Jim Carfagno, trainer Jan Ely, and others. The dissenting group has charged ITHA leadership with various forms of mismanagement, charges that have been repudiated by the current administration. The protests began when the ITHA board voted to extend terms of office from two to three years, a move that Kasperski and the board said was undertaken in order to save money.

Frank Kirby, a longtime trainer, is running for president against Kasperski. Four seats on the board also are up for election. The ITHA has mailed to its membership ballots that are due back Dec. 1. Shortly thereafter, an auditor will tally the votes.

* Wednesday's featured eighth race, a second-level sprint allowance, drew a field of nine, and Beautiful Racket would be a solid favorite to win it - if the race were on grass.

Moved from dirt to turf when she switched from East Coast racing to Chicago this summer, Beautiful Racket turned in a pair of bang-up performances at the Arlington meet, but Wednesday's race is at six furlongs on dirt, and Beautiful Racket, a rare starter at this meet from trainer Tony Mitchell, has shown much less on the main track.

The pick to win is Miss Ann H, who struggled to finish third of 10 when favored at this class level on Sept. 30, but should find the present constitution of Hawthorne's track surface more to her liking than she did in her last start, when the track was especially deep and laboring.

* The place pick nine, introduced to the Hawthorne wagering menu this fall, has proven an elusive target for bettors: No one has correctly picked all nine since Oct. 1, and an 11-day carryover pool is up to $24,299 for Wednesday's card. The bet, however, was hit four of the first seven days it was offered.