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Springer holding a pair of aces
STICKNEY, Ill. - Every March the small to midsized stable of trainer Frank "Bobby" Springer starts trickling into Hawthorne from its winter quarters in New Orleans, and every March he starts hitting bull's-eyes. So far this meet it's four winners from seven starts for the Springer barn. But even better things might come Saturday.
Springer has two horses for the six $100,000 Illinois-bred stakes races included in a strong 10-race program here, and though other horsemen - such as Michele Boyce, Mark
Cristel, Richard Hazelton, and Brian Williamson - have more stakes starters, Springer's one-two punch packs power. First up is Jaguar City, who looks like the lone speed in the two-turn Peach of It Handicap for older fillies and mares. In the final race of the stakes sequence, the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, Springer sends out Home of Stars, who at age 5 might be ready to take over as the leading older Illinois-bred route horse, be it turf or dirt.
That at least is the suggestion Home of Stars gave here last November when he won the High Alexander Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths, his first stakes win and Home of Stars' top performance in a consistently ascendant career. Campaigned by the heirs of the late prominent Chicago owner Russell Reineman, Home of Stars has made only
16 starts, battling chronic foot problems about every step of the way.
"When he was a 2-year-old in training and a 3-year-old, I always thought he was this kind of horse," Springer said. "It's his feet. He's had quarter cracks, bruises. We've used bar shoes, patches; it's just a daily fight."
But right now, the humans are winning. "His feet are good, or I wouldn't run him," Springer said.
To lessen the pounding on his hooves, Home of Stars has run more on grass than dirt. In his lone race last winter at Fair Grounds, he finished a good second in an open third-level allowance at a mile on turf. On dirt, he has compiled a 3-2-1 record from 7 starts, and Springer said Home of Stars is "equal on both surfaces."
Jockey James Graham, who has made a splash with 10 wins at the Keeneland meet, has been named to ride both Springer-trained horses. Graham will shift his tack from Kentucky to Arlington when the meet opens May 13.
Milwaukee Avenue wide open
Home of Stars is the 9-2 second choice on Hawthorne handicapper Jim Miller's morning line, with Wiggins a tepid 4-1 favorite in the Milwaukee Avenue. Indeed, the 1 1/16-mile Milwaukee Avenue, which attracted 11 entries, appears to be a competitive race. Besides Home of Stars and Wiggins, there is Magic Doe, who split those two last fall in the High Alexander; Garesche, an open fourth-level allowance winner here last out; Chinkapin, an open stakes horse in his glory years; and the talented 4-year-old Jaguar Friend, also trained by Springer.
The stakes sequence begins with the third race, the Chicagoland Handicap, which drew only five horses but still is worth watching. Silver Bid, the reigning Illinois sprint king, faces challenges from Kentucky invader Big Bold Sweep and Laurel shipper Take Achance on Me.
Humor at Last heads the Land of Lincoln for 3-year-old male sprinters, while the female counterpart to that race, the Lady Hallie, drew a wide-open field of 11. Neither of the day's other two filly-and-mare stakes, the Governor's Lady and the Peach of It, appears to have a clear favorite.
Tomillo pleased with 'Lord' in defeat
Lord of the Game lost for the first time in his career, but didn't disappoint his connections with a third-place finish last Saturday in the Grade 3 National Jockey Club Handicap. After breaking slowly, Lord of the Game ran up to engage Badge of Silver - one of the top older horses in the country - in a protracted pace battle. Fast fractions took a toll on both; Badge of Silver was passed in the stretch by Pollard's Vision, while Lord of the Game tired at the three-sixteenths pole. But he ran on well enough to hold clear the graded stakes winner Freefourinternet for third, and was beaten only six lengths by Badge of Silver.
"I thought he ran a great race," trainer Tom Tomillo said Monday.
Plans for Lord of the Game's next start are uncertain, Tomillo said, but the horse will get "a little break" after cramming four starts into a relatively short span of time this meet.
"I haven't really decided anything for him yet," said Tomillo. "There are a couple $10,000 starter-allowance races in the book at Arlington."
Injustice disliked mud
Injustice, a distant sixth last Saturday in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails, came out of the race in good physical condition, and disliked the wet going, according to trainer Wayne Catalano.
"She did get a little tired, but she was squealing when she came back, and I was happy with that," Catalano said. "We'll just wait and see where we go next."
Easier spot for Win Me Over
None of the six Illinois-bred stakes Saturday properly suits Win Me Over, who was instead entered in Friday's seventh race, a second-level route allowance restricted to Illinois-breds. His competition includes Bold Lion, who returns to statebred company for the first time since a blowout debut win here last fall.
Win Me Over last started April 9, when he finished fifth, beaten more than 20 lengths by Greeley's Galaxy, in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. No way he was going to challenge Greeley's Galaxy, widely considered a legitimate Kentucky Derby horse, but Win Me Over ran into traffic trouble just as he was winding up for a run.
"He got stopped a little, and it really cost him his momentum," said trainer Brian Williamson. "I think he could've been fourth."
Win Me Over's luck two races ago was little better; he stumbled at the start and raced several lengths behind a false pace, finishing second. Williamson could have turned Win Me Over back to a sprint trip in Saturday's Land of Lincoln, but instead chose to stay in two-turn races, opting for Friday's allowance.
The Land of Lincoln might also have lured Bold Lion had the horse not run so poorly in the $143,000 Lost Code Stakes on the Illinois Derby card. Bold Lion, impressive in his earlier races, failed to show his early speed, never got into the race, and finished last of eight. The move to Illinois-bred company Friday could change his fortunes.
* Conspicuously absent from Saturday's Peach of It is Julie's Prize, who would have been favored in the race, but is currently out of serious training. Julie's Prize finished second in an overnight stakes race here earlier this month, but will await a start during the Arlington meet, trainer Tony Mitchell said.