04/12/2003 12:00AM

Wiggins meets older rivals


STICKNEY, Ill. - Wiggins would have been one of the favorites in last Saturday's Land of Lincoln Stakes, but rather than ask the promising Wiggins to start his season against stakes horses in a full field, trainer Tony Granitz pegged Monday's fifth race as Wiggins's seasonal debut. Wiggins, a 3-year-old, faces older horses for the first time, but there are only six of them and Wiggins can win this second-level statebred allowance sprint on class alone.

One of the best Illinois-bred 2-year-olds of 2002, Wiggins made four starts last year and won twice, but it was his narrow loss in the open Spectacular Bid Stakes Sept. 7 at Arlington that showed off Wiggins's talent. Rating behind the leaders for the first time, Wiggins took a big run at Sharp Impact and lost to him by less than a length. The performance got Wiggins sold privately, and the partnership that bought him turned Wiggins over to Granitz.

Wiggins's only start for his new connections came in the Marleuls Troy Stakes at Fairmount, where he made short work of an overmatched field, winning by more than five lengths. A winter vacation in Florida ended in early March, when Wiggins came to Chicago to resume serious training, but a minor respiratory infection set Wiggins's training schedule back and cost him a start in the $100,000 Land of Lincoln.

"We had the race penciled in, but only if he was ready," Granitz said. "He had a little mucus after he shipped up north, and that cost us some time. I just thought this was an easier spot than running in a big field."

Wiggins worked a bullet half-mile here April 9 in 47.80 seconds, and Granitz said the colt has trained well.

"He's probably about 90 percent right now," Granitz said. "He showed a lot of speed last year, but he's been rating real well in the morning."

If Wiggins comes up short, Lil' Joe or Chasmo could pounce. Lil' Joe has missed the board only once in seven starts at Hawthorne, and was third March 28 in a fast race at this same allowance level. Chasmo, like Lil' Joe, has a propensity for finishing second and third - between them they've won only four of 38 starts - and he finished second in all three of his starts in second-level statebred allowance races last season. Chasmo shows stamina-oriented workouts for his first start of the year.