02/22/2007 12:00AM

Up-and-comers face four stakes winners

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The rapidly improving Storm Force and the undefeated The Hitman will both make their stakes debuts Saturday at Oaklawn, breaking side-by-side in a competitive $50,000 Mountain Valley, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds .

The other four entrants in the six-horse field are stakes winners: Irish Dreamer won the $50,000 Dixieland here Jan. 19; Probation Ready won the $72,000 Black Gold at Fair Grounds on Jan. 27; Sir Five Star is the recent winner of the $136,000 Riley Allison Futurity at Sunland Park; and Go Poppa Fooze was a sprint stakes winner in the $48,000 Minstrel at Louisiana Downs last August.

Storm Force will break from post 2 in the Mountain Valley, right outside of the rail-drawn The Hitman. Storm Force won his maiden in his fifth start, rallying for a neck win in a six-furlong race here Jan. 21. One start later, Storm Force dominated an optional claiming race at six furlongs, winning by four lengths here on Feb. 9.

"He kicked it home," said Wayne Lukas, who trains Storm Force. "I liked his finish - that's what impressed me the most, when he drew off, and that was with winners. He didn't draw off on the maidens as well as he did the winners. He's on the improve."

Storm Force was bred by his owners, Overbrook Farm. He is a son of Storm Cat out of the mare Especially, who is a daughter of Mr. Prospector.

"He's out of a really good mare," said Lukas. "They're quick horses from that mare."

Especially has produced Boston Common, a Grade 2 winner of $609,317, and Storm Surge, a Grade 3 winner of $473,223. Her next stakes winner could be Storm Force, who figures to get a good trip Saturday, just off The Hitman and Go Poppa Fooze.

"He lays right there, one-two-three," said Lukas.

The Hitman is perfect in two starts. He won his career debut by 8 1/4 lengths at Remington Park last November, then came back and won an optional claiming race at Oaklawn by three-quarters of a length on Jan. 27. The runner-up in that race, Front Court, has since won a conditioned allowance at Oaklawn with a Beyer Figure of 82.

The Hitman shows a pair of breezes since his last start. Bred by his owner and trainer, C.R. Trout, he is a son of Salt Lake and the mare Solid Hit, who has produced sprint stakes winners Homefieldhit and Hosanna Hit. Trout has given the mount to Belen Quinonez.