04/03/2008 11:00PM

Sweet Aptitude appears all too obvious

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Seeing the names Eight Belles and Highest Class - among the best 3-year-old fillies in the Midwest - show up in the recent running lines of a horse racing at Hawthorne on Sunday should be enough to trigger a handicapper's instant interest. Alas, the class drop Sweet Aptitude takes in the featured seventh race here is likely to be widely noted, enough so that she looks like the favorite among a field of seven fillies entered in a $50,000 optional claimer.

Sweet Aptitude, trained by Bobby Springer, makes her 3-year-old debut at one mile and 70 yards on the main track, and she should win for the second time in seven starts if form holds. At Fair Grounds, after Springer moved his stable south from Chicago, Sweet Aptitude finished fourth in a decent one-mile allowance race Nov. 30, then was fifth in an even better one on Dec. 23. Highest Class won that race, and later ran third to Indian Blessing and Proud Spell in the Silverbulletday Stakes. Eight Belles finished second, but no horse has come close to her in three subsequent starts.

Meanwhile, Sweet Aptitude got a break, her connections perhaps sensing that she was not cut out to clear her first-allowance condition at the tough Fair Grounds meet. Hawthorne should be a different story. Sweet Aptitude won her maiden routing here in the fall, and is far more proven around two turns than any of her rivals on Sunday.

Stretch-out sprinters Steela, Pretty as a Smile, and Dot's in Style should keep things lively on the front end. A lesser horse with more stamina, like Milks, could sneak into the exacta at a price.

Trio gaining on Brueggemann

Roger Brueggemann jumped out to a big early lead in the trainer standings when he won with all four of his starters on opening day, but Brueggemann, while still having a strong meet, has slowly come back to the field. With 11 wins entering this week's racing, Brueggemann had three main pursuers for the spring training crown: Mike Reavis, Tom Tomillo, and Frank Kirby.

Tomillo, who has gotten hot recently, has nine wins, as does Reavis, whose total has come through with only 26 starters. Kirby, who has sent out more horses (74) than anyone else at the meet, has 15 second-place finishes, but only 8 wins.

More competition for Thornton

Tim Thornton has been riding roughshod over the ongoing Hawthorne meet; his total of 41 winners through Monday was 29 better than the next-highest win total, the 12 posted by Inez Karlsson. Thornton has benefited from being leading rider in the fall-winter meet, to say nothing of his own ability, but his path to the riding title this spring has been greased by the departure of most of the regular leading riders in Chicago.

Thornton's competition is about to grow stronger, however, with Chris Emigh back from Oaklawn this weekend, and Jesse Campbell already riding here after wintering at Fair Grounds. Still at Oaklawn are Eddie Razo, Israel Ocampo, and Larry Sterling, and once all converge in Chicago, Thornton's complete dominance will wane.