Updated on 09/18/2011 2:41AM

So, how cold was it?


CHICAGO - It might - might, mind you - have been all of 17 degrees on Thursday afternoon at Hawthorne Race Course, with a chill wind whipping out of the northwest. Perfect horseracing weather, hey?

Hark back to summertime in Chicago, and take a look at the top 10 riders from the Arlington Park meet.

Second-place Cisco Torres is out of action, while third-place Eddie Razo recently returned from a shoulder injury at Hawthorne, where sixth-place Jose Ferrer also still is stationed. The others all have flown the coop - most to mild southern climates - all except Chris Emigh, the guy who topped the Arlington standings. Emigh was out there Thursday, with heat-warmers in the soles of his riding boots, thick tights under winter pants, and scuba gloves covering his regular riding gloves.

"It wasn't too bad out there, really," Emigh said, "as long as you were covered up."

Emigh has morphed into the perennial leading rider in Chicago, and he seems determined to make Chicago racing a year-round job.

He's going to win another Hawthorne riding title, holding a runaway 78-47 lead over Ferrer in the standings after Thursday's races. On Friday, driving toward Hawthorne for another frigid day of racing, Emigh said he was committed to Hawthorne all the way through the Jan. 2 closer - and probably next winter, too. Committed also to being a husband and a father to his two kids, and staying close to home if he can.

"My dad was never around when I was a kid," said Emigh. "He used to work on the oil rigs a lot, then my mom and dad got divorced, and I never really saw him much after that. I mean, I'm doing pretty good here. Sometimes, I think about leaving, but the kids are in school, I like being a family man, being at home."

Emigh went to California early in 2006, but said he's giving himself some R & R rather than a West Coast swing this year.

"I've been going two years straight," he said. "I'll give my body a break, get the hunger back, the desire, and get ready to go for next year."

The Hawthorne track is built to stand the winter, but still gets tricky when its this cold.

"It was like powder out there [Thursday]," Emigh said. "It wasn't very deep. There was no thickness to the top, and they hit the bottom, which was hard. Out of the gate was the main thing - trying to get out without falling."

And trying to get home without freezing. Year-round Chicago racetrackers steel themselves against the inevitable cold, but that doesn't mean they thrive in it.

"I don't think you ever get used to it. I wouldn't want to go outside and play around, but you're going out to work, to do a job," said Emigh.

A warming would improve surface

A forecasted Friday warm-up never really materialized, but the weathermen are saying 40's for his weekend, and higher temperatures could really help the Hawthorne surface. Assistant general manager Jim Miller said Hawthorne closed training early, at 9 a.m, on Friday to try and work the dirt into better shape.

"They'll be adding a little surface on there," said Miller. "Warmer weather should help us. It was powdery, dusty out there [Thursday]."

* Sunday's featured eighth race, restricted to the female set, is for third-level allowance horses or $40,000 claimers at six furlongs, and drew a highly competitive field of 10. Even in the dead of winter, Hawthorne still fills its cards fairly well.