11/06/2003 12:00AM

Wiggins has plenty more to prove


STICKNEY, Ill. - There were 63 Illinois-bred horses entered in the Illinois Festival of Racing on Saturday at Hawthorne. By the time the last of six stakes races comes up, 50 of the horses will have run. The spotlight will then swing onto Wiggins, who will attempt to cap an excellent 3-year-old season by beating older horses in the Robert F. Carey II Handicap.

Wiggins was one of 13 entered in the Carey, which is one of four stakes that lured a double-digit field. The Showtime Deb for 2-year-old fillies has 14, the Powerless for fillies and mares has 12, and the Sun Power for 2-year-old colts has 10. Stakes action starts with the Illini Princess, which is the weak link in the sequence, but also includes the Lightning Jet, a showdown between the crack sprinters Out of My Way and Bulldog George.

Statebred horses start to look special when they can move into open company and contend. Wiggins won a pair of open stakes races this summer - the Round Table at Arlington and the Prairie Meadows Derby - before finishing fifth last month in a solid edition of the Indiana Derby. Wiggins's recent workouts at Hawthorne have been sensational, including five furlongs in 59 seconds on Nov. 3.

Yet questions remain. Wiggins has faced older horses just once, and he did not beat strong opponents in his two open stakes wins.

"Wiggins still has to prove it to me," said Leo Gabriel, the trainer of Baker Road, a four-time winner at Hawthorne and a legitimate contender in the Carey. "He hasn't beaten older horses yet. My horse doesn't get any respect, but he's won $400,000."

Baker Road appeared to tire when he was second here in an open allowance race Oct. 8, but the race was his first in two months, and Saturday's stakes was the goal all along.

"I think he's better now than he's ever been since we've had him," Gabriel said.

Baker Road got an 88 Beyer Speed Figure for running 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.20. A race earlier, Paddy's Spy ran the same distance in 1:47.60 and received a Beyer of 82. Paddy's Spy, a hulking gray 8-year-old, has a way of running his best in statebred stakes at Hawthorne, and if the pace gets hot, he could factor at a long price.

The other "now" horse in the Carey is Oza, who scored a 5 1/4-length win in an optional claimer here Oct. 18. Oza, who breaks from post 2, could control the pace if Baker Road and Wiggins both are taken back.