11/24/2005 1:00AM

Wide-open sprint sets up for closers


CHICAGO - Note to self: Bring muffler, scarf, and heaviest coat to racetrack Saturday.

With the mercury struggling to hit 20 degrees here on Thanksgiving, there can be no doubt: Hawthorne's winter meet is in full swing. Another sure sign was the vast number of horses entered on the Saturday card here, including 12 in the featured eighth race. And as difficult as it might be for ontrack fans to keep warm should they venture outside at wintry Hawthorne, it might be equally tough coming up with a winner of the Saturday feature.

The race is at six furlongs for third-level allowance horses or $35,000 claimers. Half the field has been entered for the claiming price, and perhaps just as many horses seem capable of winning.

There are at least three major pace players in the race, including inside-drawn Silver Peagus, outside-drawn Jimmy's Boy, and lightning-quick Explosive Count. The early fractions figure to be robust - fast enough that one of several qualified closers should have a chance to successfully rally in the stretch, though that often is difficult here, especially if a horse swings wide. Camp Nagawicka gets the call to get up in time, and he may get a better trip than he did in his last start. Making his first start in six weeks here Nov. 5, Camp Nagawicka broke from post 11 in a 12-horse race at this same class and distance. He was off a bit slowly, dropped out to last, and rallied late for fourth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by the Hawthorne-loving Out for a Spin. This time, Camp Nagawicka, trained by Chris Block for the Summer Camp Stable, has post 6, and establishing slightly better early position may be all he needs to break through with an overdue fourth career win.

Papa Fuse, who breaks from the rail, has knocked on the door at this class level, and didn't show his best when he finished eighth last out in that same Nov. 5 allowance race. A slow break took Papa Fuse out of his game early, and he had traffic trouble later on. With a better break, Papa Fuse can stalk and pounce. All three of his career victories have come over the Hawthorne dirt strip.

Stratematic finished second by a head in the Nov. 5 race, but may not run back to the effort. Never Give In was less than a length behind him that day, but has often looked like a horse better suited to 6 1/2-furlong races.