11/12/2004 1:00AM

Race week will drop to four days


STICKNEY, Ill. - Hawthorne will reduce its racing week to four days during December, declining the option to extend the current five-day racing week through the end of the year.

The track's decision comes despite an excellent average number of starters per race at this meet, which began in late September. Through this week, Hawthorne was averaging 8.92 runners in each race.

The issue of December racing days in 2004 arose during the 2003 Illinois Racing Board hearing to award dates. The track signed on to a four-day-a-week format, but was offered the option of racing five days if that was deemed viable. The matter came up again at the 2005 dates award hearing this fall, when Hawthorne general manager Thomas Carey said the track had not determined how many days to race. The decision came this week, with the track taking the conservative approach.

"The handle was down a little at the start of the meet, but we're coming back, and this should help that trend," said Jim Miller, Hawthorne's assistant general manager.

Hawthorne's field size almost certainly will decrease next month, with the end of turf racing and the beginning of the Fair Grounds meet in late November. Many Hawthorne stables pull up stakes to winter in Louisiana.

"We're doing this in hopes of maintaining field size in December," Miller said.

With the new schedule, which takes effect the week of Thanksgiving, Hawthorne will race Wednesday, go dark on Thursday, then race Friday through Sunday. Historically, December handle here has been significantly stronger on Wednesdays than Thursdays.

Joe Kasperski, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, said there had been some grumbling among horsemen about the four-day week.

"The horsemen I talked to weren't happy with it," Kasperski said. "They wanted to run five days, but they'll live with it."

Atlantic Frost should handle step up

Atlantic Frost made huge strides when she was switched to grass racing late this summer at Arlington. There would have been little point to keeping her in the Oct. 23 Summertime Promise Stakes when it was rained from turf onto a soaked main track. But what that has meant is a five-week break between starts for Atlantic Frost, who - barring radical climatic change - makes her last Chicago grass start of the season in Hawthorne's ninth race Sunday.

Atlantic Frost was one of 12 fillies and mares entered in a second-level turf allowance carded for one mile, and she will have to be at her best to win from post 11. One-mile grass races at Hawthorne start close to the first turn, and jockey Eddie Razo will have his work cut out trying to get position before the bend.

The ninth is not the only second-level allowance on the program, but it has more horses and more quality than the fifth race, a dirt sprint with a field of eight.

Atlantic Frost, trained by Mickey Goldfine for owner-breeder Arthur Appleton, was an eight-race maiden in September, but she won her maiden in her turf debut and looked good doing it, scoring by a widening 4 1/4 lengths. That was on Sept. 11, and less than a month later Atlantic Frost was back, this time at Hawthorne, where she won an entry-level allowance race by almost three lengths.

Another step up the allowance ladder Sunday pits Atlantic Frost against a higher class of opponent, but this is a race she can win. The ones to beat, horses like Stormybdancing, are decent sorts, but a sharp filly on the rise - an Atlantic Frost - should be capable of beating them.

Board may reduce Gold Cup purse

There is a move afoot in the Illinois Racing Board to reduce the $750,000 purse of the Hawthorne Gold Cup. At a board meeting last week, Hawthorne was asked to provide justification for the purse level. The matter will come up at the board's December meeting, during which 2005 stakes schedules at Chicago tracks will be approved.

The Gold Cup drew only seven starters this year, and the race's winner, Freefourinternet, finished last in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Perfect Drift, second in the Gold Cup, finished fourth in the Classic.

"We want to keep it at $750,000," Miller said. "We feel that since it's been boosted to a Grade 2, we can attract the fields to get it to a Grade 1."

Some unhappy with Miller's dual roles

Miller himself has been the source of some insider controversy, since he is serving both as Hawthorne's assistant general manager and as an agent for two jockeys, the apprentice Liz Morris and the journeyman Seth Martinez. Miller became Morris's agent last summer during the Arlington meet, but picked up Martinez just weeks ago.

Some agents here claim Miller's position at the track gives him an unfair advantage. They say Miller has computer access to entries that other agents lack, and that his position with the track could lead to abuses. No one, however, has directly accused Miller of wrongdoing.

But other local agents interviewed said that they were unconcerned with the situation, and that Miller should be allowed to continue working both jobs.

The matter has come before the stewards, and Miller has been permitted to serve in both positions.

"We've discussed it, and we've discussed it with the racing board and with track management," said steward Eddie Arroyo. "There's no decision now. It's under advisement."

Miller said: "I can understand their complaints, but I follow the rules just like everyone else. There's nothing I can do to change the outcome of a race."