03/05/2004 1:00AM

E J Harley, 12, hangs 'em up


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - E J Harley, the popular Arkansas-bred sprinter who won his debut as a 12-year-old last Sunday at Oaklawn Park, has been retired, said his longtime trainer, David Vance.

He is to ship to a Little Rock, Ark., farm this weekend. During his career, E J Harley won 17 of 54 starts and $456,915.

"We kind of told ourselves over the winter the first time he wins, well retire him," said Vance.

It happened last Sunday, when E J Harley, in his customary front-running fashion, led throughout to win a $5,000 claimer for current owner Frank Vozel. As a younger horse, E J Harley won four stakes, including three consecutive runnings of the Hot Springs Stakes from 1998-2000.

Vance said one of E J Harley's finest moments was winning the Hot Springs for the third time. E J Harley, a gelding, started his career as a 3-year-old at Oaklawn, winning his debut in 1995.

But a few months later, he was fighting for his life. He contracted a virus when in Kentucky, had a temperature of 105 degrees, and for a while was touch-and-go to live.

"The vet told the owner one night if he makes it through tonight, he's a stakes horse," said Vance. "He was on death row and he came out of it somehow. He had a will to live and he had a will to win. I'm going to miss him."

Beau's Town eyes Oaklawn return

Beau's Town will make his season debut at Oaklawn, said his owner, Dave Hulkewicz. Cole Norman, who trains Beau's Town, is hopeful the horse can make the $50,000 Hot Springs Stakes on March 21.

If not, Beau's Town will point for the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint at Oaklawn on April 8.

Hulkewicz and Norman said Beau's Town would not be ready to defend his title in the Pelleteri Breeders' Cup at Fair Grounds on Sunday. Beau's Town won that race last year, as well as the King Cotton, Count Fleet, and Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup.

His primary goals this year include the Count Fleet, the Bing Crosby, and the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park.

Theriot suspended for wire error

Jockey Jamie Theriot will start a seven-day suspension on Sunday for misjudging the finish line in the eighth race Wednesday. His suspension will run through next Saturday, but he can ride in designated races, according to a ruling issued by the Oaklawn stewards on Friday.

Theriot was aboard the front-running Ba Ba Boom in the 1 1/16-mile allowance, but thought the race was one mile and let up on his mount at the sixteenth pole, where all one-mile races end at Oaklawn. Spirit o' War, the favorite who was challenging him through the stretch, went on to a three-quarter length win over Ba Ba Boom, who held second.

Puffy Shirt possible for Carousel

Trainer Sonny Wigginton said he will be watching the $50,000 Spring Fever with interest Sunday. He has a filly who could start in the next stakes in the local filly and mare sprint series, the $50,000 Carousel on March 27.

Puffy Shirt, who is 4, won an entry-level allowance by 7 1/4 lengths last week, covering six furlongs in 1:10.40.

"She's a bright light in the barn," said Wigginton.

Wigginton said one of Puffy Shirt's strengths is her efficient stride. Later this year, he would like to put her on turf, in the $75,000 Stravinsky at Keeneland on April 17.

Storm damages barn roofs

A rainstorm with 60-mile per hour winds ripped through the Oaklawn backstretch around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night and damaged the roofs of two barns, Nos. 25 and 28. The entire roof was taken off Barn 28, while there was just partial damage to 25.

Oaklawn officials said substitute roofs had been installed on the barns. Training and racing went on as scheduled Friday.

"We were blessed that nobody got hurt," said Tommy Kerr, director of stable security at Oaklawn.

* Plans for Two Down Automatic, who finished second to Smarty Jones in the $100,000 Southwest Stakes, are pending. Trainer Steve Asmussen said he wants to work the colt back a couple of times before making a decision on his next start. Asmussen said Two Down Automatic would remain at Oaklawn. Before the Southwest, Two Down Automatic was third to Fire Slam in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds.