04/22/2005 11:00PM

Turf or dirt, Stidham looks in good shape


STICKNEY, Ill. - Winter's icy hand blew back into Chicago late this week, with rain and even some dancing snowflakes Saturday afternoon. The wind was powerful from the northeast; Lake Michigan looked like an angry sea. But as far as Hawthorne is concerned, the only weather really worth paying attention to is rain. If the ground is dry enough to conduct turf racing, the Monday card, with three scheduled grass races, is fairly decent, but if those races are rained onto dirt, the program will suffer.

Either way, trainer Mike Stidham, who will be based across Chicagoland at Arlington Park later in the spring, is in good shape. Stidham has Illinois-breds for two of the day's three grass races: the sixth, which is an entry-level allowance, and the ninth, a maiden. The horse in the ninth, Irish Song, appears to have a great chance regardless of surface, and while Beau Happy clearly prefers turf to dirt, she could still win the sixth if the race is rained onto the main track.

Both horses spent the winter racing in New Orleans. They have a grass course down there, but definitely not races restricted to Illinois-breds. Beau Happy ran three times at Fair Grounds - once on a sloppy main track, twice on grass - and she held her own in those open turf allowance races, with a close sixth Jan. 6 and a closer fourth Feb. 7, her most recent start. Last October, Beau Happy missed by a neck in a race at this class level over the Hawthorne turf, but she does not figure to be denied Monday. Beau Happy and jockey Jesse Campbell have tactical speed, and she will get first run on the stretch-closers like Killing M Softly, Doing it Our Way, and Desirable Dancer.

Irish Song was sixth and seventh in open maiden races on the Fair Grounds grass course earlier this year. Both times, Irish Song took up a prominent position on the backstretch and lacked a stretch punch, but in a dirt route against Illinois-breds three weeks ago at Hawthorne, he rallied from seventh to finish a clear second behind a sharp winner.

The second race is another division of statebred maidens, but it is tougher to decipher than the ninth. Bettors willing to take a chance might look at Spider the Glider, who ran his best career race in his only try on grass.