03/16/2007 12:00AM

Quite Acceptable has room to improve

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Who knows what will happen in the War Emblem Stakes, a 3-year-old route race on Sunday at Hawthorne, but Shannon Ritter, the trainer of likely favorite Quite Acceptable, already had anxious moments over the race.

Based at Oaklawn Park this winter, Ritter declined to send Quite Acceptable against higher-class stakes foes there in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes, opting instead for the $45,000 War Emblem, a local prep for the Illinois Derby. But while Quite Acceptable traveled by van from Arkansas to Chicago on Thursday night, arriving Friday morning, Hawthorne still hadn't drawn its Sunday card - and getting sufficient entries to make races go has been a challenge here recently.

"I was just relieved that the race went, since I'd already shipped him up there," Ritter said.

Yes, the War Emblem went, but barely, with only five horses and four betting interests. The whole card is much the same: There are four seven-horse fields, three races with six entrants, and one with eight.

Quite Acceptable has won 2 of 3 starts, capturing his six-furlong debut here Dec. 23 with a last-to-first rally, and winning an entry-level two-turn allowance race last out at Oaklawn, improving on a fourth-place finish in a similar kind of race in his first try with other winners. That's a decent start to a career from a horse that hasn't yet put his mind to racing, according to Ritter.

"He's been mentally not quite there, but gradually he's been coming around," she said. "He worked [five furlongs] in 1:06 by himself before he won at Oaklawn, and his last work he went in 1:01 by himself, so he seems to be making progress."

Quite Acceptable, Ritter believes, has plenty of ability that has not yet been tapped.

"He comes back, even after his works, and it's like nothing happened," Ritter said. "So, hopefully, there's some improvement there."

Owner Jim Tafel and trainer Greg Geier have two for the race: Coragil Cat, who has never been two turns, and Rector, who was second last out in a Tampa Bay entry-level allowance. Slam My Heart had good form on Turfway Polytrack, but finished ninth last out in the Ocala Breeders' Sales Championship. Galloping Home won a Turfway Park maiden race in his most recent race.

Ferrer back from Florida

Jockey Jose Ferrer, who established himself as a solid presence on the Chicago circuit after moving his tack here from Florida last year, is set to return to Hawthorne this week after starting the year at Tampa Bay Downs. Ferrer, who arrived in Chicago earlier this week, according to agent Oscar Sanchez, was named on one horse Friday, but it was scratched, and was scheduled to begin riding Saturday.

This will be Ferrer's first long-term stay here since Hawthorne stewards handed him a 30-day penalty for failing to do his best to win a race last October. Ferrer appealed the ruling to the Illinois Racing Board, later agreed to pay a $1,500 fine, and had the suspension dropped.

Ferrer, who bought a house not far from Arlington Park last year, left Tampa ranked seventh in the jockey standings, with 25 wins from 152 mounts.

"He got homesick," Sanchez said. "We were going to be here early anyway, and he'd rather come over now and start getting ready for Arlington."

In other Hawthorne jockey doings, Derek Bell has left the colony after only a few weeks in Chicago. His agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, has picked up the business of veteran jockey Randy Meier, who is closing in on his 4,000th career victory.

Coach Jimi Lee breezes

Coach Jimi Lee, one of the top sprinters on the Chicago circuit, had his first racetrack work of the year, going a half-mile in 48.80 seconds on a chilly Friday morning.

Coach Jimi Lee spends most of the year at Hawthorne - where he holds the six-furlong track record - and Arlington, but did most of his damage last year in Iowa, winning three stakes races at Prairie Meadows. He finished second in the Arlington Sprint, and wound up his season with a fourth over Keeneland's new synthetic racing surface in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Coach Jimi Lee, now a 7-year-old, already had posted two works at a Florida training center before shipping into Jim DiVito's Hawthorne barn, but DiVito said it will be a while before the horse is ready to race. Not surprisingly, DiVito has his eye on return trips to Prairie Meadows, but said he hoped "to find a race for him somewhere" in April.

* The Roger Brueggemann juggernaut rolls on at Hawthorne. Brueggemann didn't just win three races here Thursday, he won three straight races, taking down the pick three with victories in the second, third, and fourth races. Brueggemann has 13 winners from 32 starters this season.