09/20/2007 11:00PM

Slower times, tired horses on deep track

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Many of the jockeys came back after the first race on Friday at Hawthorne Race Course with some foreign substance coating their silks and - in some cases - their faces. It was dirt, and Chicago racetrackers are not used to this.

James Graham, who had ridden Predestination to a second-place finish in the meet opener, had a pretty good beard and mustache going as he walked back to the jockeys' room - not facial hair, but Hawthorne main track plastered to his face. Arlington's Polytrack has virtually no kickback, and though Graham had ridden last Saturday at Prairie Meadows, the switch to Hawthorne meant a much dirtier experience.

Graham described the Hawthorne track surface as "a little deep," and the surface appeared to grow deeper as the opening day card progressed. This should come as no surprise. Arlington's Polytrack was pretty compacted by meet's end, and if the track was occasionally fast in the afternoon, it consistently produced blazing workout times in the morning. That has changed entirely.

Bobby Belpedio, the head clocker at both Chicago tracks, explained the workout conversion rate thusly: "A half in 46 [seconds] is now 49, sometimes 50. Five-eighths in 58 or 59, those are 1:02 and 1:03."

Hawthorne has changed the composition of its racetrack for this meet, hoping to keep the surface from becoming too loose. So far, however, the track has been deep and tiring.

"The Arlington horses seem to be getting tired working on it," Belpedio said. "They hit the wire and they're done, basically. The Canterbury horses, they seem to be working good on it."

Hawthorne opened on the first day of autumn, but the afternoon felt like mid-summer, with the temperature approaching 90 degrees. No one was going to confuse this with opening day at Del Mar or Saratoga, but the ontrack crowd was decent, and betting appeared to be solid.

"From the looks of it right now, it seems like we're going to be up across the board," Hawthorne assistant general manager Jim Miller said midway through the program.

Street Sense a Gold Cup maybe

If racing fans are eager to find out just where trainer Carl Nafzger elects to send Street Sense for his next start, just imagine the pins and needles on which Hawthorne racing officials are seated. It seems like Nafzger and owner Jim Tafel - a Chicagoan - have narrowed their choices down to the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway and Hawthorne's big race, next Saturday's Gold Cup. And like Turfway, Hawthorne has gone out of its way to make the Gold Cup an attractive option. The Gold Cup purse grows from $500,000 to $700,000 if a horse with multiple Grade 1 wins in the past year starts.

The entire complexion of the Gold Cup hinges on Street Sense, according to stakes coordinator Debbie Lindsay. His presence would just about guarantee a short field; his absence could open the door to any number of possible starters.

Chief among them is Student Council, winner of the Pacific Classic in his most recent start. Trainer Vladimir Cerin said he had lined up a Tuesday flight from his Southern California base to Chicago if he decides to send Student Council rather than keep him at Santa Anita and run him in the Goodwood, also on Saturday. That decision, of course, hinges upon Street Sense's plans.

DiVito takes two to Kentucky

The undefeated West Coast Coach will join his stablemate Piratesonthelake on the Kentucky Cup card Saturday at Turfway, rather than ship to California to race in a statebred-restricted race there.

Trainer Jim DiVito - who swept the exacta in the Friday opener - said he decided the Kentucky Cup Juvenile would be a better spot for West Coast Coach because it was closer to Chicago.

"I think he's too young to ship all the way out there," DiVito said.

West Coast Coach, with DiVito up, breezed a solid five furlongs here Thursday morning. He won his career debut at Arlington, and captured the Prairie Meadows Freshman Stakes last time out. The Kentucky Cup Juvenile will be his first start around two turns.