03/24/2004 12:00AM

Calhoun, Martin coming for the Festival

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Jockey Eddie Martin Jr. and trainer Bret Calhoun, who team together on a regular basis and who are having strong meets at Fair Grounds, both plan to invade Oaklawn.

Martin plans to ride in Hot Springs after the close of the Fair Grounds meet on Sunday. He was third in the standings in New Orleans heading into Thursday's races.

"We'll be at Oaklawn from March 31 to April 10," said Bobby Kelly, agent for Martin.

Calhoun, who is tied for second in the trainer standings at Fair Grounds, has two horses pointing for stakes during the Racing Festival of the South.

Josie G., who in her last start won the Sam Houston Oaks, is headed to the $75,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup on April 10. There is an outside chance she could run a day earlier, in the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy.

Mr. Archibald, who in his last start defeated a deep field that included Midway Road, is possible for the $100,000 Fifth Season Breeders' Cup on April 7, said Calhoun.

Martin has the mount on Josie G. Prior to the Sam Houston Oaks, she finished second in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass and fourth in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday, both at Fair Grounds.

Azeri vs. Wild Spirit in Apple Blossom

Azeri, who has won the past two runnings of the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn, is one of 12 fillies and mares nominated to the 1 1/16-mile race. The Apple Blossom will be run on April 3.

Azeri is one of four early probables, and her connections have yet to name a rider. According to officials at Oaklawn, the other probables, with riders, are Wild Spirit, Jerry Bailey; Golden Sonata, Carlos Marquez Jr.; and Keys to the Heart, Terry Thompson.

Weights for the Apple Blossom are expected Friday.

The race will share a card with the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. Officials said that race also has four early probables: Peace Rules, Bailey; Saint Liam, Edgar Prado; Sir Cherokee, Thompson; and Private Emblem, Tim Doocy.

Weights for the Oaklawn Handicap were to be released Thursday.

Purge will have a new rider

Purge will return to Oaklawn for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 10, but a rider has yet to be determined, said his trainer, Todd Pletcher.

John Velazquez was aboard Purge when he finished second to Smarty Jones in the $200,000 Rebel last Saturday. But on April 10, Velazquez will be riding the Pletcher-trained Value Plus in the Wood Memorial.

Blazing Count returns in feature

Blazing Count has an experience edge over Unbridled America in the featured 10th race at Oaklawn Park on Friday, but the latter has more recent races. Seven horses are entered in the two-other-than allowance with a $40,000 claiming option.

Blazing Count last raced in November, finishing third in a starter allowance at Churchill Downs. Blazing Count shows three bullet works for his return, including a four-furlong move in 47.40 seconds on March 23. Cliff Berry has the mount on Blazing Count, a nine-time winner, for trainer Randy Morse.

Unbridled America, who has won two of 11 races, was a close third in a money allowance last out. John McKee has the mount for trainer Bob Holthus.

* Bedanken, who won the Grade 3, $125,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap at Fair Grounds in her last start, is being pointed for the $75,000 Irving Distaff at Lone Star Park on April 17, said her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel. Bedanken is among the nominees to the Apple Blossom.

* The Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders' and Horsemen's Association will hold its annual meeting and awards banquet on Saturday at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hot Springs. The next day, both divisions of the Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-breds will be run at Oaklawn.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman