04/09/2005 12:00AM

'Peach' set to start campaign


STICKNEY, Ill. - When the trainer Percy Scherbenske had Synco Peach ready for the first start of her 4-year-old season at this time last year, the prevailing mood in the filly's camp mixed anticipation with trepidation. Synco Peach had raced three times at age 3, showing high-level talent in an Arlington maiden win, but she had injured herself and undergone surgery, and Scherbenske wrestled with wondering how Synco Peach would come back.

Just fine, just fine.

Synco Peach won her comeback here at Hawthorne and won five more races in 2004, capping her season with a clear victory in a $101,000 stakes race and, later, the trophy as an Illinois-bred champion.

Now, Synco Peach starts her 2005 campaign as the leading older Illinois-bred female sprinter, and she might be favored Monday at Hawthorne in her first start of the season, a high-end sprint allowance race with a $100,000 claiming option. This is an open-company race, but all six horses entered were bred in Illinois. The field includes Dutchie, the main threat to Synco Peach and the winner of the $42,000 Kissapot-amus Stakes here in her last start.

Synco Peach won the Powerless Stakes on Nov. 13, and a couple of days later she was sent off to a luxury winter vacation at the Marshfield, Wis., farm of owner Lamont Nienast. Cold, perhaps, but invigorating.

"We brought her to the track in January, so she's been back quite a while," Scherbenske said. "She's had a good six-furlong work and a five-furlong work. I'm using this as a prep for the stakes, but she's ready."

The stakes is an Illinois-bred race later this month, but there is no reason Synco Peach can't prepare for it and win the Monday feature at the same time. She is a forward-racing filly, but not a speed-crazy sort. On paper, it appears Synco Peach and jockey Larry Sterling will wind up on the lead from post 1, and that should not bother her in the least. She had a similar trip from the rail last summer at Arlington and beat the talented mare Sue's Good News in a race at a class level similar to Monday's.

Dutchie once was a front-runner, but her style has evolved to stalk-and-pounce. In her recent win, she had a 45.20-second half-mile split at which to run, but Monday, the pace should be slower, and Dutchie's task that much more difficult.