04/18/2009 12:00AM

Rain threatens turf feature


STICKNEY, Ill. - Mother Nature is threatening to skip a season here in Chicago. Of winter, we've had plenty, but it is getting on to May, and spring barely has made an appearance. The people at Hawthorne Race Course shrugged their collective shoulders and began carding grass this week nonetheless. The turf course will not win any awards for lushness, but it should only get greener during the meet's remaining racing programs.

Monday's featured sixth race is a third-level optional $50,000 claimer, and is carded for 1 1/16 miles on grass, but a move to the main track could be in the cards. The high temperature is forecast to be around 45 here Monday, with rain expected to fall Sunday through Tuesday, making a rain-out more than slightly possible.

Turf or dirt, the feature could land on a horse that wintered at Fair Grounds. Unpaid Crusade ran poorly in New Orleans when he last started on March 8, beaten more than 13 lengths by his stablemate Free Fighter, but his overall form picture looks much better than that single performance, and over the Hawthorne grass Unpaid Crusade has a win and a second from two starts. Despite landing an outside draw, Unpaid Crusade should contend for the top slot if the race stays on turf.

On dirt, Ashe's Cat looks good. A winner at both Fair Grounds and Delta this past winter, Ashe's Cat has made only one start on turf, and apparently was entered here in hopes of a rain-off. The horse has run well before on the Hawthorne main track, and has handled wet going in the past, if it comes to that.