03/10/2006 1:00AM

Ritter has another live one


CHICAGO - Throw out the turf horse Load a Chronic, who failed to fire in a dirt race here last week, and trainer Shannon Ritter has won with three of her four starters at the National Jockey Club meet at Hawthorne. Ritter has just a handful of horses, but they seem to land in ideal spots - much like Winvictus in the featured fourth race on Sunday.

The race is for second-level allowance horses at one mile and 70 yards, and Winvictus seems lucky to have gotten a race at all. On a day when entries were unusually slow to fill, the Sunday feature went with just six horses, and surely was not far from being shelved for another day.

, like most of the horses Ritter has saddled during her short tenure as a head trainer, is owned by WinStar Farm, and has proven to be quite decent. Third in a sprint when he made his career debut early in the Arlington meet last year, Winvictus had the body type and stride of a route horse, and was quickly stretched out to two turns. But that didn't work at first.

Winvictus finished third in an Arlington grass race and fifth in a Turfway Park route over Polytrack. It was not until Ritter shortened him back to a sprint race that Winvictus won for the first time, scoring a sharp maiden victory over this surface last fall.

Winvictus has made steady progress, and after a good closing third sprinting again in his first race against other winners, Winvictus showed Jan. 1 at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs that, yes, he could be a two-turn horse. Making the lead with a nice burst into the stretch that day, Winvictus held firm and won by a half-length. While it has been the better part of 10 weeks since that start, Winvictus has breezed four times in the interim, and his two works since shipping into Hawthorne include a bullet five-furlong drill on March 4.

Not surprisingly, Winvictus attracts leading rider Chris Emigh, who has been scooping up favorites with great regularity this meet.

Chief among the other contenders is , whose final start of 2005 probably was the best race of his career. An Illinois-bred facing open allowance horses at this same class level, Oak Forest ran strongly through the stretch to finish second by a half-length, and he too brings a good workout line into his first start of the Chicago season. Oak Forest is trained by Chris Block, whose horses often come back in strong form after intermediate layoffs.