03/25/2006 1:00AM

Shandy looks live on return


CHICAGO - Shandy once was one of the better Illinois-bred sprinters going, but his skills declined to the point where he went winless in nine starts during 2005. Trainer Richard Hazelton entered Shandy two weeks ago in a high-end allowance race with a $100,000 claiming option that allowed Shandy into the race, but Shandy was scratched, and in any case would have been no match for the graded-stakes-class sprinter Fifteen Rounds.

In the featured fourth race Monday at the National Jockey Club meet, Shandy runs for a $60,000 tag in a race also open to fourth-level allowance horses. And this is the time for handicappers to take a good, long guess at how much might be left in Shandy's tank.

Six others are in the race, and some have better recent form than Shandy, chief among them Papa Fuse, sharp winner of a third-level allowance race here last month. Papa Fuse, trained by Bob Gorham, is just about 100 percent Hawthorne, having made 13 of his 16 starts here, and scoring all four of his career victories on the surface.

In principle, Papa Fuse steps up to meet tougher competition Monday, but this is not the deepest fourth-level allowance group ever assembled, and the horse second to Papa Fuse last time out, Jimmy's Boy, came back to win by about a pole last week.

Stratematic, another Hazelton-trained horse, also won his most recent start, but that came with a perfect trip in a $25,000 claiming sprint.

Iron Rogue, inherently something like a $25,000 claimer, stepped up to win a third-level allowance with a $35,000 claiming option in his last start, but got a major assist as the inside-speed on a rail-biased racing surface.

There should be no clear lead for anyone in this six-furlong race. Raving Rocket disappointed in that classy race from which Shandy scratched, finishing last of five and showing no more than brief early speed. But Raving Rocket figures to go for the lead from the rail, and a Kentucky shipper named Blazing Exploit almost always finds the front end, and should cross over from his outside draw to contest the pace.

If the pace is too fast, there's the Illinois-bred Afleet Buck to consider, but he was a distant fourth in the Fifteen Rounds race. And then there is Shandy. Hazelton has been sending out live horses coming back from their winter rest, and Shandy has worked six times in rapid succession for his first start in 2006. The strong work pattern, a healthy dose of back class, and a potentially ideal race setup make Shandy worth a play at a decent price. Whatever he does have left might come out on Monday