04/01/2007 11:00PM

Cotton Blossom draws next to top rival


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Cotton Blossom and Cash Included, the top two contenders in the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park on Friday, will break side-by-side in the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies after drawing posts 2 and 3 here Monday.

In all, eight runners entered the Fantasy, which will open the Racing Festival of the South. During the series, nine stakes worth $2.8 million will be run over the final six days of the meet. The closing card on April 14 features the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Cash Included was scheduled to fly in from Southern California on Tuesday, said her trainer, Craig Dollase. She comes into the Fantasy off a third-place finish to Rags to Riches in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks.

"We thought this was a cozy spot to get her ready for the Kentucky Oaks," said Dollase.

Cotton Blossom, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the $200,000 Florida Oaks in her last start March 17. The Fantasy field, from the rail, with riders is: High Heels, Joe Johnson; Cotton Blossom, John Velazquez; Cash Included, Alex Solis; Time's Mistress, John Jacinto; Swift Temper, Calvin Borel; Jay's Princess, Larry Sterling Jr.; Tensas Yucatan, Jesse Campbell; Devil House, Terry Thompson.

Round Pond top weighted

Round Pond has been made the 120-pound highweight for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on Saturday, which is expected to draw a field of eight fillies and mares. The projected field with weights and riders is Round Pond, Edgar Prado; Take D' Tour, 118, Eibar Coa; Ermine, 116, Eddie Castro; India, 116, Joe Bravo; Lemons Forever, 115, Mark Guidry; Baghdaria, 114, Eddie Razo Jr.; Rahys' Appeal, 114, Solis; and River Savage, 112, Omar Berrio.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap shares the card with the Apple Blossom, and the field had six probables as of Monday, led by 120-pound highweight Lawyer Ron. Others expected to start in the race are Jonesboro, 116, Borel; McCann's Mojave, 116, Frank Alvarado; Boboman, 115, Solis; Papi Chullo, 113, Coa; Smokeyjonessutton, 112, Guidry. Possibles include Dry Martini, 114.

Holthus has a new assistant

Paul Holthus, a former trainer and most recently the vice president and general manager of H.E. "Tex" Sutton Forwarding Co., last week began working as an assistant trainer to his father, Bob Holthus. Holthus said Paul made the decision to join the stable following a horse sale last week in Florida.

"He was thinking about it, and when we got back, why, he decided to take the job," said Holthus. "It's good. He's an excellent horseman, and I think it will help our barn a lot."

Holthus said Paul is now based at Oaklawn, and following the meet will head with the barn to Churchill.

"He'll do all the work from now on," Bob Holthus said with a smile. "I'll just think and watch."

Bullet for Officer Rocket

Holthus put his Arkansas Derby starter Officer Rocket through a serious work on Saturday. He drilled five furlongs in a bullet 59.80 seconds, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80. Luis Quinonez was aboard for the move, which came over a sloppy track.

"I thought he worked excellent," Holthus said. "The track was sloppy, but I thought it was in good condition when he worked, and I went ahead and worked him. I thought he galloped out strong."

Officer Rocket will start as one of the top choices in the Arkansas Derby after finishing second to the probable favorite, Curlin, in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes here March 17.

Wildcat Bettie B to pass Count Fleet

Grade 1 winner Wildcat Bettie B came out of her third-place finish in the $50,000 Carousel here Saturday in good order, but will skip the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap here April 13, said her trainer, Larry Jones. The race was her first start since October.

"She just apparently needed the race really bad," he said. "She apparently is not putting as much into her works like she usually did. She's gotten a little smarter on us. We're going to space [her next start] out a little bit."

Jones said Wildcat Bettie B, who will ship to Kentucky soon, has no next-race plans set but will be considered for the Grade 1, $250,000 Humana Distaff at Churchill on Mayo5, or the $75,000 Sweet N Sassy at Delaware Park on April 28.

Flying First Class works a mile

Flying First Class worked a mile in 1:40.80 on Monday in preparation for the Arkansas Derby. He came home the final quarter in 23 seconds, and galloped out the mile and an eighth in 1:54.40.

"I wanted to make sure that we got the bottom on him that I didn't have on him last time," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Flying First Class. "I thought his work was excellent today, especially the way he finished up."

Flying First Class was eighth as the favorite in the Rebel, one start after he won his maiden with a Beyer Figure of 107. Terry Thompson was aboard for the work, and has the mount in the Arkansas Derby, said Lukas.

* Oaklawn will host 54 days of racing in 2008, from Jan. 18 through April 12. The track's dates were approved at an Arkansas Racing Commission meeting Saturday.

* Oaklawn added clay and silt content to its racing surface Monday.