02/10/2004 12:00AM

Amid horde of newcomers, old school rules

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Although there are 32 new stables at Oaklawn this meet, a good chunk of the races are being won by stables that have been at the track the longest. Led by 50-year veteran Bob Holthus, who sits atop the standings for the third straight week, trainers Terry Brennan, Terry Dunlavy, and Gary Hartlage are off to quick starts at Oaklawn.

Brennan has won with 4 of 11 starters and had a double last Wednesday. Dunlavy has gone 3 for 5 with his 11-horse stable, while Hartlage won with four of his first nine starters and has some live horses in Thursday.

The success among stables long affiliated with Oaklawn has not gone unnoticed. "We root for the old regime," said Dunlavy, 65.

It seems the old guard has one big thing in common when it comes to racing in Hot Springs - a healthy respect for the whims of Mother Nature.

"You know you train around the weather," said Dunlavy. "You kind of get yourself down here a little bit ahead of time."

As for starting the meet with a bang, there's no big secret among longtime trainers at Oaklawn.

"It's good stock," said Dunlavy. "A coach is about as a good as his players. The horses I have seem to be doing well, and I have a few young horses that are coming along."

Competitive feature

On Thursday, Brennan will send out a sharp Was My Case in the featured eighth race. His chief rival in the six-furlong, $62,500 optional claimer for older horses is the Holthus-trained Green Riches.

Green Riches appears to be coming up to a top effort. In his last start, he was second in a $62,500 optional claimer at Fair Grounds on Jan. 5. Since that race he has worked consecutive bullets at Oaklawn. John McKee has the mount on Green Riches, who races for Lewis Lakin.

Was My Case, who will be ridden by Roman Chapa, is one of several in the race with speed. He was a wire-to-wire winner over a two-other-than allowance field in his last start, but has used stalking tactics to win before, and might have to again with other speed types like Tricky Mocha, Honor Me and Song Dancer in the feature Thursday.

The talented Song Dancer will be making his first start since March 2002, when he won a one-mile race wire to wire and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 106

Also in the field is Saint Waki, a strong closer who will benefit if a speed duel were to develop. This past fall, he won three straight sprint races in Kentucky. Tim Doocy has the mount for trainer Pete Vestal.

Norman sends out huge maiden victor

To say Sacred Vow was an authoritative maiden winner would be an understatement. He rolled to a 26-length win in a $10,000 maiden claimer at Delta Downs in December, and will make his first start since that win in the sixth race Thursday at Oaklawn.

Sacred Vow will take on $15,000 conditioned claimers at one mile. The race is for 3- and 4-year-olds who have never won two races. Sacred Vow, who is 4, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for his maiden win, which came over 6 1/2 furlongs, a two-turn race at Delta.

He was purchased for $280,000 as a yearling, and is a son of Silver Deputy. Norman has given the mount to Jamie Theriot.

Last week, Norman sent out Ruby's Finest, who won a maiden claimer by 19 lengths at Delta in December, to win a $30,000 conditioned claimer at Oaklawn.

Private Emblem pointed for Essex

Trainer Steve Asmussen said Private Emblem, the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby winner in 2002 who finished fourth to Sir Cherokee last out in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, is being pointed for the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex at Oaklawn on Feb. 21.

The horse, who has never been beaten at Oaklawn, has been working in Hot Springs.

"We want to make his 3-for-3 record there 4 for 4," said Asmussen. "He's run the races of his life at Oaklawn."

Along with the Arkansas Derby, Private Emblem won a division of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in 2002. Last year, he was a smashing allowance winner at the track. Private Emblem races for the partnership of Cassels and Zollars.

Asmussen won last weekend's stakes at Oaklawn with Eternal Cup. She was powerful through the stretch, driving to 1 3/4-length win in the $50,000 American Beauty Stakes.

"She's one that can be a very good sprint mare this year," he said.

As for her next start, Asmussen said he plans to continue to "space her races really well." He said she will remain at Oaklawn.

With her win, Eternal Cup is considered a leading contender for the $50,000 Carousel on March 27.

* The Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will hold its annual dinner, dance, and membership meeting earlier than usual this year, on Feb. 21. It will be held at the Austin Hotel in Hot Springs, and tickets, which are $25, can be purchased at the association's offices at Oaklawn.