04/21/2009 11:00PM

Two veterans set for Illinois-bred card

Email

STICKNEY, Ill. - Between the two of them, veteran trainers Spanky Broussard and Richard Hazelton have stored up enough experience to sit and tell racing stories for several weeks straight. They also both have talented Illinois-breds to start in Saturday's Illinois-bred stakes-racing extravaganza at Hawthorne.

Six stakes worth about $100,000 each have been carded, the races drawn on Monday. Hazelton has the likely favorite for the Land of Lincoln in Devil's Halo, who makes his first start since sustaining an injury last fall. For Broussard, the challenge is not a layoff, but a quick turnaround, since he trains Stonehouse, who wheels back in the Milwaukee Avenue just two weeks after winning an open stakes race at Oaklawn Park.

Stonehouse broke from post 11, pressed a fast pace, and still won the $100,000 Fifth Season Handicap by a neck. About five weeks earlier, he had won the $75,000 Gulf Coast Handicap by more than five lengths at Delta Downs, and somewhat suddenly, 5-year-old Stonehouse is sitting pretty clearly at the top of the Illinois-bred older-route-horse division.

"Those horses by that sire [Chester House] develop as they get older," Broussard said.

Stonehouse figures to be even-money or less to win the Milwaukee Avenue, but that didn't help him last spring, when he finished second to return rival Instill at odds of 1-2 in the race. But Stonehouse now has turned in three straight top performances, and seems to have become more consistent with age.

Devil's Halo, meanwhile, was a sharp maiden winner here on Oct. 11, and about three weeks later captured the Sun Power Stakes by open lengths in just his second start. An injury cost Devil's Halo a start in the Jim Edgar Futurity in December, but Hazelton has gotten five recent works - two of them bullets - into the horse prepping for the Land of Lincoln. Devil's Halo is drawn in post 5, just outside his chief rival, My Dominick James.

Stiritz platoons two trainers

Prominent owner William Stiritz has changed the structure of his racing operation again this spring, with Scott Becker, an assistant trainer and racing manager, taking over as head trainer of the Stiritz horses not based at Fairmount Park or at Stiritz's farm near that downstate Illinois track. Terry Gestes, who has trained for Stiritz since the owner parted ways with Jimmy Zook a few years ago, will continue training the horses based downstate.

"Now I'll worry about the ones down here and the babies," Gestes said. "We'll give it a shot this way."

Stiritz has about 80 horses right now, according to Gestes. There are 35 at Fairmount, and close to that number of 2-year-olds still based on the farm. And Stiritz-owned horses will occupy as many as 30 stalls at the Arlington meet this year. Last year, Stiritz had a string at Prairie Meadows, but the horses not in southern Illinois will be housed at Arlington this summer.

Becker is working as head trainer for the first time, he said Wednesday. He said he had worked as an assistant in California and southern Illinois before, and had headed up Stiritz's Oaklawn Park barn the last two years as Gestes's assistant.

"I was kind of like the racing manager and assistant trainer before," Becker said. "I placed the horses where we wanted to go with them, broke a lot of babies and stuff. Right now, I'm going to be handling everything out of town."

Stiritz had his best season in 2008, winning 53 races with purse earnings of more than $1.3 million, and 2009 has gone even better. Already, Stiritz-owned horses have won 20 races, and the stable has accumulated over $520,000 in purses. Two horses, Palanka City and Proceed Bee, have won stakes races, and both are in Chicago preparing to start next month.

Palanka City, a Grade 3 sprint winner in 2008, capture a pair of $50,000 stakes at the Oaklawn meet, and is being pointed to the $150,000 Hendrie Stakes on May 10 at Woodbine, Becker said. Palanka City worked a quick half-mile on April 16 at Hawthorne.

Proceed Bee, meanwhile, has shipped into Arlington, and is likely to make his next start on turf, Becker said. Racing over Turfway Polytrack this past winter, Proceed Bee won the John Battaglia and finished third to Hold Me Back in the Lane's End Stakes, and he won the Grand Canyon Stakes at Churchill last fall in his lone grass try. Proceed Bee could return to Churchill for the American Turf early next month, but is more likely, Becker said, to await the Arlington Classic on May 23.