01/29/2004 12:00AM

For eight, first race in a while


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The $50,000 King Cotton at Oaklawn Park on Saturday might not be as much a test of talent as it will be a test of fitness. Of the 10 horses in the six-furlong race, eight are coming off layoffs ranging from six weeks to a little more than one year. Those making up the classy field include Baileys Edge, who last raced in January 2003 and won the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park.

"Our biggest concern is that he's coming off such a long layoff," said Larry Jones, who recently took over the training of Baileys Edge. "But he's trained forwardly, and a lot of these horses are coming off a layoff, so we're all kind of in the same boat."

Chindi, a near millionaire who is 10, has not raced since July, when he finished fourth in the $100,000 Bernhardt at Ellis Park. Before that race, he won the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap.

"This is the longest [layoff] he's ever had," said Steve Hobby, who trains Chindi. "It was just circumstances. There was nowhere to run him, so we just turned him out. He's fresh."

So is Honor Me, who has not raced since April, when he ran a huge race to finish second to Beau's Town in the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

Saint Waki, an up-and-coming 4-year-old who has won his last three starts, has less of a layoff to overcome than those three and should vie for favoritism on the strength of his sharp form. He last raced Nov. 26, closing from last to first to win an allowance at Churchill Downs.

"His last start was probably his most impressive," said Pete Vestal, who trains Saint Waki. "It was a two-other-than, with some solid horses in there, and he ran by them and opened up five lengths on them right towards the wire. It was very impressive going six and a half furlongs."

For his effort, Saint Waki earned a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure. James Lopez has the mount for Thomas Carey.

Another entrant with a future in the sprint division at Oaklawn is Skeet, who in his last start Nov. 29 ran one of the best races of his career when he won a five-furlong turf allowance at Churchill Downs.

"I'd like to roll a little sod before the ninth race Saturday," trainer Bob Holthus said, jokingly.

But dirt will do, Holthus said. Skeet is a winner at Oaklawn and has been firing bullets over the local strip. He also has the speed to control the pace and could give Holthus, who swept both stakes opening weekend, his fifth win in the King Cotton.

John McKee will ride.