02/28/2007 12:00AM

'Ormond' assets offset long layoff


CHICAGO - Normally, trainer Wayne Catalano would have a minimal presence this time of year at Hawthorne, if he had any at all. But normal for Catalano is something like 30 percent wins with heavy action in the claiming game, both in terms of horses lost and horses gained, and his season at Gulfstream Park - where Catalano has wintered the last couple years - has been decidedly slow, in both wins and action.

So two Mondays ago, a shipment of 14 Catalano-trained, Frank Calabrese-owned horses arrived from Palm Meadows for the Hawthorne meet. Two were entered in Friday's fourth race, which is only an entry-level allowance but nevertheless the highest-class event on a nine-race program.

In all, seven horses passed the entry box Wednesday for Friday's fourth, with Catalano's pair, Altercation and Ormond by the Sea, coupled in the betting because Calabrese owns both. Catalano constantly is entering two horses in the same race and scratching one of them, but since E.T. Baird was named on Altercation and Chris Emigh on Ormond by the Sea, both might actually make it to the starting gate.

Both horses exit layoffs, but Altercation merely appears to have been freshened, while Ormond by the Sea hasn't raced since April, when he won a $25,000 conditioned claimer over Hawthorne's often-tricky main track. That proven ability to handle the local surface is one of the qualities that make Ormond by the Sea more attractive than his stablemate, despite his long break. Ormond by the Sea shows six workouts - five at Palm Meadows and one at Hawthorne - for his comeback race, and has much more early speed than Altercation. Speed definitely was an asset during the abbreviated first week of Hawthorne's meet.

But on paper, any of the horses entered can win. Brave n'Able won a conditioned $17,500 claimer here in the fall, and the distance between that class and the first allowance level is not great. Open Bar is a cheaper horse, but may be the speed of the race. Deploy, like Brave n'Able from the barn of Charlie Livesay, has been second and fourth in Hawthorne entry-level allowance spots. Tampa's Big City won his last Hawthorne sprint, and Mt. Crafty might even be favored, though his late run appears better suited to at least slightly longer distances.

* Only 68 horses - an average of 7.5 per race - were entered on the Friday program, but better days might not be far off at the Hawthorne meet, since 149 horses posted timed workouts Wednesday, a vast number for a winter weekday here.