10/09/2006 12:00AM

A strong derby field may include Brilliant


CHICAGO - Saturday's Hawthorne Derby is the last graded stakes of the year in Chicago, and if things fall the right way, it could turn out to be a good one.

The Hawthorne Derby, a Grade 3, competes for horses with the Bryan Station Stakes, scheduled for Sunday at Keeneland, but at $250,000 the race here offers a purse $100,000 higher than Keeneland's, and perhaps that is swaying some horsemen to give Hawthorne a longer look. Chief among them is trainer Neil Howard, who will have the race favorite in Brilliant if he decides to ship from Churchill. Howard said Saturday that he was leaning to the race, and on Monday, Hawthorne racing officials said they thought Brilliant was coming.

His presence, in fact, could scare a horse or two into the Bryan Station, since Brilliant won the $500,000 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park so impressively in his last start. But the list of possible starters here is fairly formidable: Amigoni, Arbuckle Bandit, Creative Force, Crested, Kingship, Murch, Sea of Trees, Tally Up, and Union Avenue.

Kingship and Union Avenue took down two-thirds of Arlington's Mid-America Triple, the three-race 3-year-old turf series culminating in the Secretariat, in which neither of them raced. Kingship won the Arlington Classic on July 1, and three weeks later finished a close 10th behind Union Avenue, who won the American Derby. Union Avenue subsequently finished a respectable third in the Del Mar Derby, while Kingship got a freshening, then came back with a sharp win Sept. 23 in the Wilhite Memorial on Super Derby Day at Louisiana Downs.

"I'm not sure yet what we're going to do," said Ronny Werner, trainer of Kingship. "We're looking up there and at the Bryan Station. Shipping doesn't bother me that much. He seems to ship pretty well, you know. I may even cross-enter and see how we draw, take a look at it, and go from there."

Kingship is training at Churchill, as is Union Avenue, one of three horses trainer Bill Mott nominated to a race he won narrowly last year with Gun Salute.

Baena taking blinkers off

The addition of blinkers really did put the 4-year-old filly Baena into her races more quickly earlier this year, but in the end, it became too much of a good thing. After wiring the $40,000 Liberada Stakes on June 24 at Calder, Baena, once a stalking type, started going too fast, too soon. Speed duels compromised her two most recent races, stakes at Ellis and Mountaineer, and when she starts Wednesday in Hawthorne's featured second race, Baena will be racing without blinkers, a potentially significant equipment change engineered by trainer Kelly Ackerman.

Baena was one of eight entered for turf in Wednesday's early feature. Seattle Songster and Julie Truly will run only if the race is moved to the main track.

Baena has raced once on the Hawthorne grass, finishing third about this time last year in the Hawthorne Oaks. Then, she was employing an off-the-pace style that might play well again Wednesday, and if Baena has been breezing without blinkers, her recent works - three straight bullets, albeit at Ellis Park, little-used for training this time of year - are especially worth noting.

Come on Jazz looking good as new

Come on Jazz ripped off a significant portion of his chest in a bizarre postrace incident this summer at Arlington, but he returned no worse for wear with a strong closing third in the Sept. 30 Carey Memorial at Hawthorne. And since Come on Jazz was back on the work tab already Sunday, it's safe to say he came out of the Carey in much better shape than his previous start.

After a close loss in the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington, Come on Jazz was leaving the backstretch gap on the turf course to return to the main track when something went amiss and he crashed into a fence, suffering a deep, bloody cut that required many stitches. But Come on Jazz avoided infection or complication, and at a distance shorter than his best, finished fast in the one-mile Carey. Healed and back in form, his future holds - uncertainty.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with him yet," said trainer Brian Williamson. "There's an allowance race here, but I don't know if it's going to go. There's a race at Remington to nominate to, a couple other spots I can go to, but I just don't know yet."