04/06/2004 11:00PM

Two sisters stand apart


CHICAGO - For sheer bettability, the divisions are clear in Saturday's festival of Illinois-bred racing at the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet. Younger - good. Older - bad.

Six $100,000 statebred stakes are on Saturday's menu, and the races were drawn Tuesday. Among them, the four stakes for older horses drew 28 entries. Twenty-five horses were entered in the two 3-year-old restricted stakes.

Short fields are nothing new, but statebred stakes days tend to bring obscure entries out of the woodwork, boosting field size. That's the operative dynamic in Saturday's 3-year-old races, but the other stakes drew surprisingly few nominations and fewer intended starters.

The sisters Julie's Prize and Summer Mis kept field size down in two of the races. Julie's Prize will be an overwhelming favorite over six opponents in the Peach of It Handicap, a route race for older fillies, despite having been assigned top weight of 126 pounds. Summer Mis was weighted even higher, at 128, but she should be something less than even-money when she faces six opponents in the six-furlong Governor's Lady.

Summer Mis's connections, owner Richard Otto and trainer Tony Mitchell, toyed with passing the Governor's Lady in favor of the $175,000 Madison Stakes, run Wednesday at Keeneland. And then they saw the star-studded field in Kentucky and opted for Hawthorne.

"Keeneland was going to be a tough spot," Mitchell said. "That's the cr?me de la cr?me."

Summer Mis and Julie's Prize, both out of the mare Julie Mis, have risen to the top of the Illinois-bred ranks. But there is plenty of quality in the other older-horse stakes, too. The Chicagoland, for older sprinters, might be the afternoon's best race, with the crack trio of Shandy, Silver Bid, and Out of My Way squaring off. Out of My Way won an open sprint stakes Feb. 22 at Fair Grounds, and Silver Bid out-nodded Shandy in a local allowance prep for this race.

The Milwaukee Avenue, for older horses, marks Wiggins's 2004 debut. Wiggins was among the best Illinois-breds of 2003, when he won five of seven starts, including two victories in open stakes races.

The Lady Hallie, for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, has no stars, but drew 12 entrants; the Land of Lincoln, for 3-year-old males, drew 13. No Beans, who wintered in New York, ships in as the possible Lady Hallie favorite, having won the Showtime Deb here last November. Jaguar Friend is the probable favorite in the Land of Lincoln.

Commander Hal looks like a keeper

The word comes through the grapevine, and there are outlets spread all over the land. Somebody has a racehorse for sale. Somebody else is looking to buy. Cell phones begin chiming. Sets of X-rays are shot. There is a morning gallop before interested eyes.

Do the diligence, and you still do not know for sure what you are getting in these private transactions.

But on March 13, it appeared the Mba Equestrian ownership group and trainer Bob Irwin might have found a decent one.

That was the day a 4-year-old gelding named Commander Hal won a Hawthorne entry-level allowance by more than four lengths. The race was Commander Hal's fifth and best start since he was privately purchased off the Woodbine backstretch late last summer. And since Commander Hal is by Deputy Commander and out of a Halo mare, this, his 4-year-old season, could turn out decently.

"He's a nice horse, a sound horse," said Irwin, the longtime Chicago trainer. "I'm hoping we can go through our conditions and do something with him."

Friday, in Hawthorne's featured eighth race, Commander Hal can take another step forward when he races six opponents in a second-level route allowance. In Blackinton, the likely favorite, and a Florida invader named Caiman, Commander Hal faces stronger rivals, but that's what winning an allowance race will do.

In his allowance win, Commander Hal showed a distinct fondness for the local main track, rallying from behind a slow pace to win easily. If things unfold right, there will be ample pace to set the table for a late runner: Commander Hal might be the one.

* Hawthorne handled $5,581,557 from all sources last Saturday, Illinois Derby Day, a total $1,358,331 greater than the amount wagered on Illinois Derby Day in 2003. Saturday's attendance was 5,015, as ontrack handle rose from $504,722 last year to $601,876.