02/21/2007 12:00AM

These trainers and horses laugh at the cold

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It was 47 degrees on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago. Welcome to paradise.

That, at least, is how things must feel to the folks who spent the winter dark period training away at Hawthorne, which remained open between the end of the fall-winter meet and Friday's opening day of the winter-spring meet. When the fall-winter season ended in early January, the talk around town was of winter's absence, with mild day piled upon mild day, but then the pendulum swung. By late January the weather had grown numbingly frigid, and it stayed so until winter's grip loosened this week. But through the arctic spell, Hawthorne closed for training just one day, during a virtual blizzard.

"We got real cold, big-time cold," said trainer Frank Kirby, who also has an indoor training facility at the Hondo Ranch not far from Chicago. "But you get adjusted to this."

Richard Hazelton, a native of the Southwest in his fifth decade of horse training, also wintered at Hawthorne. Didn't miss a day while the track was open, either, and saw no need to keep the horses and the help in the barn, even when the temperature plummeted.

"We just missed the one day," Hazelton said. "If I can go out on my pony, they can gallop."

"The riders never said too much to me about it," said trainer Brian Williamson. "We just rode them around the barn if it got too cold, probably missed two days. Hey, I put my toe warmers on, my Carhartts, and I'm good to go."

To race in February, horses have to be steadily training during winter, no matter how tough the weather gets. "You've got to keep going," Williamson said. "I kept breezing in the early part of January in case the weather got bad. I learned that a long time ago - you go when the track's good, when you can still train them."

Hazelton runners sitting on a few races

Williamson is bringing back from a year-plus layoff the decent Illinois-bred stakes horse Last Gran Standing, and Hazelton has some of his higher-class stock sitting on a race. One of these is Copper State, who won the Pat Whitworth Debutante in her final start last year at 2. Copper State could show up early next month. The Hazelton-trained Caruso, who was undefeated in three sprints before finishing second in the Jim Edgar Futurity, his first try around two turns, won't race until later in the meet.

Hazelton also has the promising Star By Design ready for a third-level allowance race scheduled for Saturday's card, provided the race draws sufficient entries. Star By Design sandwiched a troubled third in the Prairie Meadows Derby last fall around a pair of blowout allowance wins in Chicago. Hazelton had planned to send him to a Mountaineer stakes race before Star By Design got sick. Star By Design, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor gelding owned by the Asiel Stable, worked a bullet five furlongs on Sunday.

Two of Kirby's better 2007 prospects, Lord Carmen and Ciao, both are grass horses, and probably won't race until Keeneland. Of particular note is Ciao, who won 2 of 3 starts last year at 2, finishing her campaign with a victory in the Caressing, a small turf stakes at Churchill Downs.

"I gave her a break, and she grew a lot," Kirby said. "I took her to the training center, but I've got her back at the track now."

Banned Bell and Houghton to ride here

Five of the top 12 jockeys from Hawthorne's fall-winter meet are currently riding elsewhere, but of note are two additions to the colony, Derek Bell and Terry Houghton. Neither Bell nor Houghton have ridden yet in 2007, and are among the riders banned from several tracks because of an ongoing investigation by the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau. The investigation is thought to involve betting on a race at Great Lakes Downs last year, but no details of the investigation have been made public, even to the riders themselves.

Hawthorne president Tim Carey said the track didn't intend to make a statement by allowing Bell and Houghton - both of whom have numerous mounts on opening day - to ride at the meet.

"We've worked closely with the TRPB, but there's nothing that has been put out on these guys," Carey said. "They cannot say definitively, and I just think it's unfair for them not to be able to make a living."

Chris Emigh, who has become Chicago's perennial leading rider, is a 1-9 favorite to top the winter-spring standings.

* Hawthorne's pick six usually is notable only for how slowly its carryover pool grows, but to try and spur interest in the bet, Hawthorne has dropped the pick six takeout rate from 25 to 16 percent.

* Hawthorne shifted dark days, from Wednesday and Thursday to Tuesday and Wednesday, to avoid racing Tuesdays alongside downstate Fairmount Park, which opens next month.

* Fan-friendly Fridays, with reduced prices on admission and concessions, are being offered this meet.