04/07/2004 11:00PM

Otto has two favorites on Illinois Day


CHICAGO - Fourteen years ago, the sting of losing an expensive racing prospect to injury made owner Richard Otto change tactics. Instead of buying racehorses, Otto would breed his own.

This from-the-ground-up approach often produces more headaches than stakes winners. Not for Otto. Saturday, on Illinois Day at Hawthorne Race Course, he and trainer Tony Mitchell have prohibitive favorites for two of six $100,000 stakes races.

Summer Mis and Julie's Prize, both out of Otto's mare Julie Mis, are two of the statebred standouts on Saturday's card. There are others, like the 4-year-old Wiggins, who goes in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, and a trio of sharp sprinters who square off in the Chicagoland. All four older-horse stakes drew seven-horse fields, but the 3-year-old races have much bigger fields: 12 fillies were entered in the Lady Hallie, and 13 colts in the Land of Lincoln, in which the promising Jaguar Friend is the one to beat.

Otto's run of success the last three seasons has pulled Mitchell along for the ride, and what began it was Summer Mis's blowout maiden win three summers ago at Arlington. By Summer Squall, Summer Mis is an Illinois-bred with a Kentucky-style pedigree - and she ran to it in her second start, beating statebred maidens by 14 lengths.

"The phone started ringing when that happened," said Otto, who owns the American Academy of Art in Chicago.

Last fall, Summer Mis won the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland. At Hawthorne, she won the $94,000 Powerless by almost three lengths under 127 pounds. Summer Mis, now 5, has been assigned 128 for the six-furlong Governor's Lady on Saturday, but few will predict defeat. Summer Mis has dominated this caliber of opposition for two years, and in her 2004 debut, she was a close third racing against males.

Julie's Prize, a 4-year-old by El Prado, looks just as good in the Peach of It Handicap. Julie's Prize must carry 126 pounds, but like Summer Mis, she has proven again and again to be a better horse than her opponents.

"We always figured her to be a better horse when she's older," Mitchell said.

"There's always been the question: Which one is better, Summer or Julie? I always said Summer, but this is the year Julie can fulfill her potential," said Mitchell.

Bettors disinclined to take short prices will find it hard to play Summer Mis or Julie's Prize, or to play against them. There is a different sort of puzzle in the Chicagoland, a six-furlong sprint for older males. This race has three main contenders: Shandy, Silver Bid, and Out of My Way. Three weeks ago, Silver Bid beat Shandy by a head in an open allowance race here, and both horses ran very well. Meanwhile, Out of My Way spent the winter in New Orleans, where he won the $75,000 Taylor's Special Handicap and was a close fourth a month ago in the $125,000 Pelleteri. But in five Hawthorne starts, Out of My Way's best finish has been a second.

His trainer, Greg Geier, still isn't sure whether Out of My Way's losses have resulted from bad luck or distaste for the racing surface here. "It's a Hawthorne jinx," Geier said. "Hopefully we can break it."

In Act of War, Geier has a horse with a chance to upset Wiggins in the 1 1/16-mile Milwaukee Avenue. Act of War, who was with Out of My Way at Fair Grounds, has met stakes-level turf horses in recent starts, and he fits well with statebred dirt horses.

But Wiggins, winner of two open stakes last season, will be difficult to get past. Unraced since he won the $111,000 Robert F. Carey here last fall, Wiggins began training Feb. 1 at Graceful Oaks Farm near Ocala, Fla. He has worked five times since shipping in to Hawthorne, and worked fast, but he might be a race away from his best.

"That's the $100,000 question," said trainer Tony Granitz. "I'd say I have him 90 percent. A lot of good horses will carry themselves."

The 3-year-old Jaguar Friend looks like a good horse. He has performed poorly in two route starts, but has won three of four races at six furlongs, including the $118,000 Futurity last fall at Hawthorne. Jaguar Friend, trained by Bobby Springer, beat older horses in a Hawthorne allowance race that should have him set for a top effort Saturday.

No Beans can win the Lady Hallie Handicap for 3-year-old fillies if she returns ready from a five-month layoff. No Beans, based recently in New York with trainer Scott Fairlie, shipped here from Woodbine last fall to win the $115,000 Showtime Deb, her first start with Illinois-breds.