11/12/2003 1:00AM

Outer post could be Ft. Mann's garden spot


STICKNEY, Ill. - It is quite possible that Ft. Mann is a filly who prefers to be outside looking in, and after drawing post 1 or 2 in her last four starts, Ft. Mann may prefer the view in Hawthorne's fourth-race feature.

This time Ft. Mann has post 6 in a seven-horse field, a perfect spot for her pace-pressing style. Better yet, owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano have entered Ft. Mann in a fourth-level allowance race after claiming her for $35,000 here Oct. 19. These people don't hesitate to drop after a claim, making Ft. Mann's class boost a positive sign.

Signs are what one is left grasping for in this six-furlong sprint, where little separates the contenders. Lovesmegold may be overmatched, Balla Twine may be prepping for a route race, and Growth Stock is winless in the last two calendar years, but Abundantly Blessed, Run Sarah Run, and Sparkling Sabia join Ft. Mann as legitimate contenders.

Run Sarah Run beat Ft. Mann by more than six lengths in their common last start, but the post position shift could even things out. Ft. Mann, a winner in three of five Hawthorne starts, was pinned on the rail by Run Sarah Run last time, but in this race Ft. Mann will be placed outside the other speed.

Abundantly Blessed, in from Thistledown for trainer Tim Hamm, shipped here this spring and was second to the good filly Smoke Chaser in a minor stakes race, while Sparkling Sabia comes off consecutive wins, the last one over this track.

At 49, Meier still riding 'because I love it'

Through last week's racing, jockey Randy Meier had 19 wins in 152 starts at Hawthorne, placing him fifth in the standings, six wins behind leading rider Carlos Marquez Jr. That is the view from close in. The camera must pull much farther back to take in the scope of Meier's career, which has spanned 31 years. Meier has spent much of that time watching from the sidelines.

"Roughly, I've missed six years if you add it all up," Meier said. "I feel real good, but sometimes I have to block out some of the aches and pains."

Injured again during the spring meet here, Meier had a subpar Arlington, winning

24 races from 266 starters, good for just 15th in the standings there. At age 49, Meier has only so many comebacks left, but his career has sparked back to life again.

"I was hoping I'd do okay over here," he said. "Coming into Hawthorne was a different story than at Arlington. Going into Arlington, I didn't have anything because I'd missed all of Hawthorne. I had to rebuild."

Meier also rejoined agent Penny Ffitch-Heyes about three weeks ago, a pairing that has been successful before. Rumors of retirement have evaporated.

"I don't feel like I have anything to prove," Meier said. "I do this because I love it. Right now, I'm about as happy as I could be. How far things go on is open-ended. It depends on how things keep going."

Cloakof Vagueness coming in for Oaks

In the recent past, trainer Blackie Huffman has been blessed with quick, agile female sprinters. Now he has a filly of an entirely different sort, Cloakof Vagueness, who is coming to Hawthorne from Churchill Downs for Saturday's $100,000 Hawthorne Oaks.

Cloakof Vagueness finished second by less than a length to Awesome Humor in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks, a race that may make Cloakof Vagueness the favorite here Saturday.

Huffman trained the crack sprinter Roxelana and has another fast filly, Emily Ring, still in his barn, but Cloakof Vagueness is cut from entirely different cloth.

"I think she might have a future," Huffman said. "She's a great big overgrown 3-year-old filly, and when she grows into her frame, she might be a real good racehorse."

As of Wednesday, Hawthorne considered eight other fillies probable for the Oaks. The best of them may be Casual Attitude, Rebridled Dreams, Shotgun Favorite, and Souris.