11/30/2006 12:00AM

Plenty of horses, absence of stars


CHICAGO - If, as the standard thinking goes, field size fuels betting, Hawthorne Race Course might handle $1 billion on Saturday.

With racing canceled because of weather on Thursday, Hawthorne's entry box for Saturday's card overflowed, even with the track tacking on an extra 10th race because of the Thursday cancellation. There were 114 horses entered, an extraordinary average of 11.4 per race, and the past performances seem to run on forever.

The flip side of the coin, however, is quality. There is not a single open allowance race, a somewhat strange absence for a Saturday program, and added together, the total purses for the day are only $181,000 - about the same as three good allowance races at a track like Churchill Downs.

There also is the chance that the card won't come off at all, with a major winter storm forecast to hit the area Thursday night into Friday. If forecasters have handicapped well, as much as 10 inches of snow could fall, followed by a temperature drop that might send the wind-chill Friday night down into single digits. Just like that, after a balmy fall, this really would be winter racing.

What passes for a feature on Saturday is race 9, an entry-level Illinois-bred allowance race carded for six furlongs. This was one of the few races on the day that didn't attract a full field of 12, but it got 11. The favorite could be Alby, whose form shows three losses at this allowance condition since an Arlington Illinois-bred maiden victory in the mud in June. Alby was trained through his last start by Christine Janks, but owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano jumped in with a claim Sept. 27, when Janks risked Alby for a $17,500 tag in a nonwinners-of-two claimer that Alby wound up winning by four lengths.

Catalano is a remarkable 36 percent winner first off the claim, and that from a huge sample of 135 runners, but it is far from easy to move up a horse taken from the astute Janks outfit. That said, Alby has been given a nice little rest, and has been posting Hawthorne breezes with machine-like regularity.

Catalano, after a miserable start here this fall, has compiled 17 wins at this meet, 10 fewer than leading trainer Tom Tomillo. But Catalano might be more focused at this moment on the upcoming Gulfstream meet than a Hawthorne training title. The race for that achievement is likely to come down to Tomillo and Frank Kirby, who had 27 wins through Wednesday. Both barns have horses entered in five races on Saturday.