04/07/2005 12:00AM

Eddington formidable in Oaklawn 'Cap

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Eddington served notice this winter in Florida that he intends to be a major player in the handicap division, with a dominant win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap and a third-place finish to Saint Liam and Roses in May in the Grade 1 Donn.

will be a strong favorite in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park. The Oaklawn 'Cap will be run as race 9 on the Million Dollar Saturday card and begins a special daily double with the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, which will be run as race 11.

Eddington is the 117-pound highweight in the Oaklawn 'Cap. Others in the field of five are: Limehouse and Second of June, the two-three finishers in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap; Grand Reward, a close fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap; and Crowned King.

Eddington, considered one of the most promising 3-year-olds in the country last year, has stepped up his game considerably this year, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 113 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap in his last start March 5. He also won his 4-year-old debut by more than eight lengths in an optional claiming race, earning what at the time was a career-best Beyer of 109.

"He's a colt that had always been strong, but not necessarily all together mentally," said Mark Hennig, who trains Eddington. "He didn't run much at 2. He made one start late in his 2-year-old year, [and] it seemed like we were playing catch-up a lot of the time last year. He has had a chance to develop mentally over the last six to eight months, and his performances keep improving.

"He was kind of like a seven-foot freshman there for a long time."

But now, with a mental maturity that matches his physical attributes, Eddington seems to be sitting on big things in 2005.

"Ultimately, we feel he's a Breeders' Cup Classic-type of horse, and we want to set up a pattern of races that will help get us there," said Hennig. "The Whitney is a summertime goal."

Eddington, who races for Willmott Stables, will break from post 5 on Saturday.

"I assume he'll be in a stalking-type of position," said Hennig, who has given the mount to Eibar Coa.

Second of June put in a big workout for the Oaklawn 'Cap, and his trainer, Bill Cesare, said he looks for the colt to move forward off of his effort in the New Orleans Handicap. Patrick Valenzuela will ride.

John McKee will be aboard Grand Reward, who lost by less than three lengths to Rock Hard Ten in the Santa Anita Handicap. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he had thought about starting Grand Reward in the Grade 1 Carter at Belmont Park, but decided to keep him around two turns and opted for this race.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman