03/09/2005 12:00AM

Win Me Over, Humor at Last in spicy matchup


STICKNEY, Ill. - A rematch between the two of the best Illinois-breds of their generation takes place in an open stakes race Saturday at Hawthorne, when Win Me Over and Humor at Last collide for the first time since they finished a half-length apart in the Jim Edgar Futurity here last December.

Win Me Over, thanks in great part to a superlative ride from Chris Emigh, beat favored Humor at Last in the Edgar, and because of that was named the champion Illinois-bred 2-year-old male of 2004. But little separates the two colts, both of whom have made one start this season. Humor at Last finished a good third in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, while Win Me Over, trying turf for the first time, was sixth in the Dave Feldman Stakes at Gulfstream.

Humor at Last, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 here Saturday, shipped to Hawthorne about two weeks ago from Oaklawn - the story of his winter. In December, Humor at Last was moved from Hawthorne to Aiken, S.C., where trainer Tony Mitchell keeps many of his horses in January and February. From there, Humor at Last vanned to Fair Grounds in New Orleans before shipping again for his start in the Southwest.

But Mitchell said the travel schedule hasn't impeded Humor at Last's development. "Nothing bothers this horse," he said. "He's wintered very well."

Win Me Over returned to Hawthorne on Wednesday after traveling by van from Florida, where he has been stabled since early January. "I guess I'll jog him Thursday, gallop Friday, and jog again Saturday," said trainer Brian Williamson, who oversees Win Me Over's training now that he has returned to Chicago.

Dutchie grows up

Trainer Michelle Boyce thought her filly Dutchie would develop into a nice horse, but she didn't realize it would take a year and a half.

Dutchie got a late start to her career, debuting at age 3 in October of 2003 here at Hawthorne, but she won her first start by eight lengths, and came back to win two of her next three. Then the losing began. Dutchie, who fought physical problems all along, lost seven in a row, and bottomed out with a sixth-place finish in an $18,000 claimer here late last October.

"I needed to do something to get her confidence back," Boyce said, and so she entered Dutchie in a $14,000 claimer on Nov. 11. Dutchie won by almost 14 lengths, starting a five-race winning streak during which she was claimed by trainer Mike Reavis for $18,000, and taken back two weeks later by Boyce for $25,000.

Dutchie isn't a claimer anymore. On Saturday, in the best race of her life, she rallied for a narrow win over Pass the Pepper, an accomplished sprinter also trained by Boyce, and Wildwood Royal, a stakes-caliber mare, in an overnight sprint stakes here. Since Dutchie is an Illinois-bred, she could have a rich future competing in statebred-restricted stakes races, and there are two of them for older females like Dutchie here April 30. Dutchie could make her next start in the coming weeks, and though she won Saturday as a closing sprinter, she is equally capable racing around two turns.

"She's just so much more settled and mature now," Boyce said. "She's gotten over all the little things that had been bothering her before."

Dutchie's full brother, a 3-year-old colt named Royko, makes his career debut Saturday in the seventh race.

Alpha to Omega gives mixed signals

Hawthorne's Friday feature, a second-level allowance race at a mile and 70 yards, has only five entrants, but it's still a knotted puzzle.

Carded as race 1, the race drew Alpha to Omega, who exits a third-place finish in the Dust Commander Stakes at Turfway. That performance looks good enough to make Alpha to Omega the favorite for trainer Frank Kirby, but handicappers will notice that Alpha to Omega finished sixth, beaten six lengths, in a race at this class level here on Dec. 4.

Kirby also entered the mid-level claimer R.T. Gulch, but the other three horses seem more likely to win. Sr. Razem ended his 2004 campaign by winning a 3-year-old claimer here Dec. 3 and coming back two weeks later with a five-length score in an entry-level allowance.

Lord of the Game debuted here Dec. 31 in a bottom-level maiden claimer, but won it by almost 23 lengths. Lord of the Game returned with an entry-level allowance win Feb. 5 at Fair Grounds.

Fair Grounds is where Subsequently last ran, and his third-place finish there Feb. 20 was the best performance of his career.