12/05/2006 12:00AM

Solo Survivor appears primed to stretch out

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CHICAGO - Sometimes, when the temperature dips low during December, there seem to be only two types of races run over the winterized surface at Hawthorne. There are those heats in which a speed horse shoots to the front and never looks back, and those in which too many jockeys get that same lone-speed vision dancing in their head. Then, the pace falls apart and a closer - even one without obviously contending form - will come from far behind and win.

The temperature this week isn't supposed to get above freezing until Saturday, so the two-type race rule could be in play Thursday. But which sort of race is the featured eighth, a second-level route allowance that attracted a tough-to-figure field of 12?

If there is an obvious candidate to seize a clear early lead it is Devil Not Me, but Devil Not Me might not be good enough to take advantage. Then again, she might. Twice a front-end winner over Minnesota-bred sprinters at Canterbury Park, Devil Not Me has never tried a dirt route before, though she was last of six at Canterbury going two turns on turf in June. Roy Houghton has trained Devil Not Me for her last two starts, both sprints, and Devil Not Me didn't get a fair chance in either of them. Don't be shocked if Devil Not Me takes this field a long way at a long price, but only if she clears rail-drawn Miss Kick, another stretch-out sprinter.

The horse to beat is Solo Survivor, who sports classic second-race-after-a-layoff stretch-out form. Solo Survivor definitely is a route horse, but on Nov. 8, in her first start after 14 months on the shelf, Solo Survivor finished an even fifth of eight in a Hawthorne sprint. Trainer Jim DiVito surely had this two-turn spot in mind then, and Solo Survivor - a strong 8-2-2-3 on the Hawthorne dirt - has come back with two solid works since the sprint start. She has post 3 and can take up a stalking position behind Devil Not Me, or whoever winds up in front.

The other obvious win contender is Lace Castelli, who was disqualified from a three-length win at this class level on Oct. 29, and might be favored over Solo Survivor with runaway leading rider Chris Emigh named to ride. Lace Castelli got a dream pace setup in that Oct. 29 race, closing from well off a very hot route pace, and she had only five rivals to beat that day. Thursday's field not only is bulkier, it appears to have more talent.