10/03/2007 11:00PM

Winvictus may wake up on dirt

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Part of the trick to handicapping Hawthorne this fall has to be figuring out which horses struggled over Arlington's new Polytrack and are dying for a return to the Stickney Spa. And that angle may be the key to unlocking the featured third race here on Saturday.

Seven horses were entered in the Saturday feature, a third-level two-turn dirt allowance race also open to $40,000 claimers, and on recent form, one wouldn't give an animal like Winvictus a great chance. But Winvictus has raced only on synthetic surfaces in his three starts since returning from a long injury break, and on Hawthorne dirt he has won 2 of 4 starts while never finishing worse than third.

"I think he's been struggling on Polytrack," said trainer Shannon Ritter, "and the last time out under the lights at Presque Isle he freaked."

The questions with Winvictus, however, run deeper than just track surface, since the best races in a once-promising career came more than a year and a half ago.

"If he doesn't perform Saturday, he's probably not the same horse," Ritter said. "He's been training great."

Win Me Over had his own year-plus layoff, which began when he got hurt in his last dirt race, which happened to come here in December 2005. His trainer, Brian Williamson, remembers it well.

"He won, but he bothered some

50-1 shot and they took him down," Williamson said.

Win Me Over made it back to the races this past spring, and all eight of his subsequent starts have come on Polytrack. He managed to win once at Arlington, and might have won another with better luck, but the return to Hawthorne could provide a lift.

"I know he likes the track here," said Williamson.

So does Mare's Ex, who has won 2 of 3 at Hawthorne, and also captured a one-mile Polytrack allowance race last out at Arlington. Mare's Ex showed talent last fall at age 2, but was hurt in early December, and performed poorly his first three starts this year until his last-out breakthrough.

"He finally kind of ran back to his form," trainer Jim DiVito said. "He had a problem with a blister on his throat, and that was the reason he was stopping."

DiVito always has regarded Mare's Ex as a true route horse, and this will be his first two-turn dirt start of the season.

And finally there is Le Jester, a six-time Hawthorne dirt winner who has been rested since July - awaiting the move away from synthetic racing in Chicago.