03/04/2003 12:00AM

'Cowboy' needs only clean trip


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A clean trip might be all four-time stakes winner Cowboy Stuff needs to win his second start after a four-month layoff in Thursday's six-furlong allowance feature at Oaklawn Park.

In his comeback race, a $60,000 optional claimer Feb. 5, Cowboy Stuff was racing in a prominent position before encountering trouble and finishing sixth.

"He got in a tight spot on the turn and had to check a couple of times," said Don Von Hemel, who bred, co-owns, and trains Cowboy Stuff. "I think he'll run a lot better race this time. I'm kind of throwing that last race out."

Cowboy Stuff will face five others, including Ruling Star, a winner of four of his last six starts for leading trainer Cole Norman, and Argentina Group 1 winner Rocking Trick.

Cowboy Stuff, co-owned by Shelly Bates, has won 7 of 13 starts and $293,340. He had his best season last year at 3, topped by winning the $100,000 Round Table at Arlington over Pass Rush in addition to three statebred stakes wins at Prairie Meadows.

Cowboy Stuff has lots of ties to Von Hemel's family. His dam, 10-time winner Deanne's Lady, was trained by Von Hemel's sons, Donnie and Kelly, at different points in her career. She is now part of the older Von Hemel's two-horse broodmare band.

"We've built it up," said Von Hemel.

Von Hemel is obviously shooting for quality over quantity. All five of Deanne's Lady's foals are winners, and three of them have won stakes: Cowboy Stuff; Boy Stuff, an 11-time winner of $238,469; and Unbridled Emotion, a nine-time winner of $194,275.

"She's been good to us," said Von Hemel, adding that Cowboy Stuff became a big brother last week, when Deanne's Lady had a filly by Grade 2 winner Broken Vow.

Terry Thompson has the mount on Cowboy Stuff.

Norman looks for Ruling Star to move forward after finishing second in the slop in his comeback from a three-month layoff last out. The wet track might have worked against Ruling Star, Norman said.

Rocking Trick also caught a wet track last out in his first start since June. He finished an even sixth in that race and has since worked sharply for trainer Lynn Whiting.

Also of note in the race is Twining Dream, an allowance winner at the distance last out.

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