03/19/2005 1:00AM

Silver Fortune may fit pattern


CHICAGO - The key to the featured first race on Monday at Hawthorne might be buried in the third race on Saturday at Hawthorne, won by a longshot named Nothing But Cat. David McShane, hardly a household name in Chicago racing circles but a regular player each summer at Prairie Meadows, trains Nothing But Cat. He also trains a horse named Silver Fortune, who could sneak into a victory in Monday's feature, a second-level sprint allowance race for fillies and mares.

Nothing But Cat had made her 2005 debut in the opening days of this meet, finishing ninth of 11 while fading the length of the stretch. It was a performance that looked something like the way Silver Fortune ran March 1 in a race here at this class level, where she used her speed to make a clear early lead but appeared to tire in the stretch, finishing sixth. That is the way Silver Fortune had run in her 2004 debut, but she came back two weeks later to gallop to victory in a Prairie Meadows maiden race.

This time, there has been a 20-day break between starts, but judging from Silver Fortune's victory 10 months ago, and Nothing But Cat's victory on Saturday, McShane might be in the habit of giving his horses a comeback race for fitness before they get cracking.

Silver Fortune is the lone speed in Monday's opener, and she will break from the rail under jockey Randy Meier, a noted front-end rider. But inside speed, often a strong positive factor here in the winter, was no good early in this racing week. An astute fan watching the Hawthorne races on Friday and Saturday would quickly have noticed the jockeys avoiding inside paths if at all possible.

And if Silver Fortune is fighting against a bias, she might not be able to fight off the late run of Willa Beauty, the possible favorite in this race. Willa Beauty has six career victories, all over this Hawthorne dirt track, and made up eight lengths in the final quarter-mile in the March 1 "two-other-than" sprint to finish second by a neck, far in front of the fading Silver Fortune.

A neck farther back that day was Illini Queen, who seems better suited to routes than sprints, but clearly fits the Monday feature based on her recent form.