05/07/2004 12:00AM

True Ruby should get proper setup


STICKNEY, Ill. - Trainer Dale Bennett seems to have found a home on the Chicago racing circuit. Don't hesitate to call this, the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne spring season, his breakout meet.

Through early Friday, Bennett had started 29 horses here, with eight wins and five seconds. He performed a Ruthian feat April 26, calling his shot. Two days before, Bennett had all but predicted victory for a filly named Cats Copy, a Michigan-bred making her first start of the season and first since joining the Bennett barn. Cats Copy lacked competitive form, and she was 11-1 in a five-horse race - which she won comfortably.

Sunday at Hawthorne, Bennett has a more obvious contender in the featured fourth race. His entry here is True Ruby - another Michigan-bred - one of six horses entered in a third-level route allowance with a $35,000 claiming option.

True Ruby has done a lot of things right this season without winning a race. She missed by a neck March 12 in her first start of the season and finished second in her two most recent races, both at this same class level.

Her supporters can hope for a breakthrough this time. Two races ago, True Ruby ran into Beautiful Crazy, a stakes-level filly, and in her last start she had the nearly impossible task of running down Balla Twine after Balla Twine had walked through an opening quarter-mile without a hair of pace pressure.

This time, there are two or three pace horses to set things up for True Ruby. Her typical stretch run might net more than a share of this purse.

Other contenders are Jo Me the Money, one of two Hugh Robertson-trained horses in the race, and Tamarack Bay, a deep closer to be ridden by Greta Kuntzweiler, freshly arrived from the Kentucky circuit.

Kirby adjusts his schedule

Trainer Frank Kirby has three horses in on Sunday's nine-race card, a light day for his stable.

In the last month of this meet, Kirby has been running a lot and winning a lot. A big two-week run has propelled him to third in the trainer standings with 18 wins through last Monday, one less than Tom Tomillo and five less than Pat Cuccurullo.

Kirby's best months of the season usually are the first months, but a virus ran through his barn early in the meet, throwing off the typical timing.

"For the first two or three weeks, everything had it, and I couldn't go too hard," Kirby said.

Trainers go through spells when all the horses seem to come around at the same time. Kirby is in one now. "Normally, they don't all peak at once," he said. "I'm satisfied with the meet I'm having."

Riding along with Kirby on this hot streak has been apprentice jockey Tim Thornton, whom Kirby has recently used as his first-call rider.

Thornton, who arrived late at the meet, has 26 winners from only 136 mounts.

"He's going to do fine, even when he loses his bug," Kirby said of Thornton, who is not yet 17. "He's not like your typical apprentice. He's experienced. He's a horseman."