11/09/2004 1:00AM

Wiggins vs. Scooter Roach, Act III


CHICAGO - So it's not Ali-Frazier, not Red Sox-Yankees, but a mild showdown looms in the High Alexander Stakes at Hawthorne Race Course.

Last fall, Wiggins won this race (then called the Robert F. Carey) by two lengths over Scooter Roach, but in the spring, Scooter Roach beat Wiggins by a half-length here in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap. The two best older Illinois-bred route horses going will renew their rivalry Saturday, when Hawthorne hosts six $100,000-added statebred-restricted stakes races.

Wiggins is a horse that tends to attract the bettors, and he might be favored again Saturday, but Scooter Roach is the one coming off a Grade 3 victory, albeit on turf. Scooter Roach was an 18-1 shot here Oct. 9 when he won the Carey Memorial Handicap by a neck, a surprise victory that came on the heels of three straight losses in $62,500 claiming races.

But Dave Kassen, who has been training Scooter Roach with his string at Churchill Downs in recent weeks, doesn't view the Carey as a fluke.

"We look for him to run good up there again," Kassen said. "Wiggins better bring his best game."

Kassen took over Scooter Roach's training in early June, when a group of owners claimed him for $62,500 at Arlington. Kassen didn't push to kill the deal, but when he looked at Scooter Roach in the paddock that day, as the claim slip was about to be filed, Kassen had doubts.

"You knew he ran okay, but I thought he looked like a $5,000 filly," Kassen said. "He was always a little feminine looking, but he's put quite a bit of weight on, and he's gotten much stronger. We certainly haven't pumped him up with steroids or anything. I don't know - maybe he's just a late bloomer."

Scooter Roach is a 5-year-old gelding, Wiggins a year younger. They have traded blows during the last year, and one of them seems likely to win the prize again Saturday.

DiVito sprinters work fast

Shamuuu and Storm the Beach, a surprisingly fast pair of Illinois-bred sprinters from the Jim DiVito barn, both worked swift half-miles Tuesday morning at Hawthorne. Track clockers caught Storm the Beach in a bullet 47 seconds, while Shamuuu went in 47.80, the next-fastest half-mile work of the morning.

Now, DiVito and owner Robert Neumeyer have to decide what to do with them. Both horses were nominated for the Lightning Jet Handicap on Saturday's Illinois Day card, but DiVito wants to run one of them there, the other in an open third-level allowance race this weekend. Tuesday morning, DiVito leaned toward going with Storm the Beach in the stakes race and Shamuuu in the allowance, but he and Neumeyer will make a final decision in the next couple days.

It's a decision neither could have anticipated a couple months ago. Shamuuu, a homebred, looked wholly ordinary his first 12 races, and as of June he was mired at the statebred entry-level allowance condition. But Shamuuu came back in July from a brief freshening a changed horse, showing newfound speed, and heart during the stretch run. He won a fast statebred second-level allowance race the first week of the Hawthorne meet, and was second Oct. 23 in an open third-level allowance race.

More arresting has been Storm the Beach's transformation from a struggling conditioned claimer. Neumeyer and DiVito claimed Storm the Beach on July 4 from a $10,000 never-won-two race at Arlington, and as DiVito pointed out, "he got beat pretty good that day." A month later, Storm the Beach won by seven lengths at the same class level; another month, and he was a good second in a statebred first-level allowance.

And since then, Storm the Beach has been untouchable, taking consecutive allowance races at Hawthorne by a combined 11 lengths.

"I haven't done that much different with him," said DiVito. "We made some little equipment changes, but I just kind of put him on my work schedule. He started working good - but any horse can work good and not show it in the afternoon."

Whether Storm the Beach is up to tackling crack sprinters like Silver Bid and Shandy in the Lightning Jet remains to be seen. But in a short time, Storm the Beach has run his way into the race.

Stormy Afternoon in blazing work

They were like sluggers taking batting practice last week, these two fast Illinois-bred 2-year-olds. On Friday, Humor at Last worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds, a breeze that still had some backstretch quarters buzzing early this week. The next morning, Stormy Afternoon went the same distance in a bullet 59.20 seconds. His trainer, Hugh Robertson, had said all along that the colt would blaze in the morning if he was allowed to, and Robertson was not lying.

The pair of speedsters alone makes Saturday's Sun Power worth watching.

* To start a week at Hawthorne in which Illinois-breds are in the spotlight, how about an Illinois-bred entry-level allowance to headline Wednesday's program? The six-furlong feature goes as race 8 on a nine-race program, and drew a field of 11. The once-started filly Little White Lie looked good winning her career debut, but the race came in early June. But since Little White Lie fired fresh the first time, she can do so again, and her mid-pack closing style appears to be a good fit in this spot.