11/06/2008 12:00AM

Weather will be key in feature


STICKNEY, Ill. - Who will win the featured race Saturday at Hawthorne? That's a second-order question. The first thing to figure out is who actually is running.

The race, a fourth-level, two-turn turf allowance also open to $80,000 claimers, was placed as the opener on a 10-race, stakes-less card. How many horses actually start depends on how much rain falls at Hawthorne before post time; a total of seven were entered, but Mr. Soul runs only in case of a rain-off, which is a real possibility.

Shadowbdancing has never started on turf, and Shim's Pride has gone 0 for 6 in grass races. The connections of both horses also might have entered hoping for a move to the main track.

In fact, the feature probably would turn out to be a deeper race if it's switched to dirt. On turf, who knows how the chips will fall. Shim's Pride, a solid 5-year-old gelding from trainer Steve Hobby's barn, has at least run decently on grass and can't be thrown out on turf. Shadowbdancing, however, is by Montbrook, whose offspring rarely come out as grass horses.

Unfortunately, those with proven turf ability lack recent form. None of the four real grass horses in the race - Rahystrada, A.P. Xcellent, Tiganello, and Rey Del Sol - have finished better than fifth in their two most recent starts.

Rahystrada looked good over the winter winning a pair of Gulfstream allowance races, but he sat out from April through September, returned in a new barn, and has not seemed like the same horse in two post-layoff starts. A.P. Xcellent raced (poorly) in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and came within a nose of winning the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup, but a June turf allowance win at Churchill was followed by three bad losses in which A.P. Xcellent was beaten a combined 54 lengths. A.P. Xcellent has been freshened up since early September and makes his first start for trainer Walter Bindner.

Seven-year-old Tiganello was claimed for a whopping $62,500 by owners Rich and Karen Papiese on June 14 but ran flat in two grass races after a narrow Canterbury stakes win in July. Rey Del Sol went south after a eking out a soft-turf allowance win three months ago at Arlington.

On dirt, the angles feel much more positive. Besides Shim's Pride's contending form, Mr. Soul would be an obvious player. He is 1 for 1 on Hawthorne dirt and fits well at this class level. And trainer Terrel Gore has been awaiting a fourth-level, two-turn main-track allowance with 3-year-old Shadowbdancing, who won the Prairie Meadows Derby in his most recent outing.