03/26/2007 11:00PM

Touch Em All, Alone at Last meet again


With temperatures spiking to near record levels in parts of the Midwest earlier this week, the thought that grass racing can't be too far behind probably crossed the minds of more than a few horseplayers and horsemen at Hawthorne.

Touch Em All and Alone at Last, both 6-year-old geldings, passed their first allowance condition on the turf last year, but they have some weeks to go before they get a chance to return to their surface of preference. But each possesses enough talent on the dirt to make him a viable contender in Thursday's featured eighth race, a $30,000 second-level allowance at 1o1/16 miles.

This will be the third consecutive meeting between Touch Em All and Alone at Last, who have traded decisions in their last two outings while coming up short of victory. In their first encounter, on Dec. 13, Alone at Last led until the final furlong and finished just over a length ahead of Touch Em All, but the roles were reversed in their season debut earlier this month, with Touch Em All getting the better of Alone at Last by more than three lengths.

Alone at Last's position in the early stages of the race might be the key factor in whether he can turn the tables on Touch Em All. Since last summer, there has been a strong correlation between how close Alone at Last has been to the pace and how well he has finished. Alone at Last seemingly conceded too much ground last time, but he might prove more formidable with a trip closer to the front. A wet track would enhance his prospects.

For Touch Em All, his recent runner-up finish is surely good enough to win if replicated, especially if none of his rivals makes significant progression. His Beyer Speed Figures have consistently risen in recent months, and he has never been out of the money in five starts over the Hawthorne dirt.

Another who figures to run an improved race Thursday is Valley Oak, who was much closer to the pace than usual last time before weakening behind Touch Em All and Alone at Last. Though he has yet to run as quickly as either of those two rivals, Valley Oak can fare better with a more relaxed trip.

Cape Fox, who overcame a moderate pace to win a first-level allowance as the favorite on March 10, also figures to draw support but likely needs a career-best effort as he takes on stronger company.