02/24/2006 1:00AM

Everybody's into the claim box

Sunny Taylor / Coady Photography
La Reason rallied to win by a neck the Pippin last Thursday.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Business at the claim box has been constant this meet at Oaklawn Park, where 98 horses have been taken through the first 16 days of racing. The total cost of horses claimed has reached $1,584,500.

Business was swift Thursday, when nine horses were claimed for total receipts of $185,000. The highest-priced claim was $30,000, with two horses taken at that level, including Acajou by trainer Lynn Chleborad.

"She was the first one that we actually got," said Chleborad, who expects to claim about five horses during the meet. "We had dropped claims on other horses and gotten outshook."

The fierce claiming activity is no surprise, said Chleborad.

"I think that it's always intense here," she said. "I think that people have to turn over their stock.

"I think it's a healthy thing for the industry."

Oaklawn brings together horses from the Midwest, Southwest, and Mid-Atlantic. And this year, trainers are here who would normally be racing at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, which ran a shortened meet at nearby Louisiana Downs because of Hurricane Katrina.

The inevitable result of so many different outfits in one area is horse trading.

"It's just a concentration of people," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who has claimed two horses at the meet. "These people will feed a lot of racetracks when they leave."

La Reason to Azeri after Pippin win

La Reason was a determined winner of the $50,000 on Thursday, when she rallied for a neck win in the 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.

"It was a tiring racetrack," said David Vance, who trains La Reason. "She had to run her full effort, or she wasn't going to win. She showed her determination."

Vance said La Reason came out of the Pippin in good order, and is now being pointed for the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn on March 11.

La Reason is a Grade 2 winner of $675,371. She races for K and K Racing, and was ridden in the Pippin by Terry Thompson.

Spring return for Cool Conductor

Cool Conductor, the winner of last year's Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico and Grade 3 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park, has just started back breezing after being freshened for a few months. He will likely make his comeback this spring in Kentucky, his trainer, Ralph Nicks, said Friday.

"We're thinking Keeneland, the Maker's Mark, but I don't know if the timeframe is going to fit," said Nicks. "If not, it might be the Woodford Reserve at Churchill. We'll let him tell us when he's ready."

The Grade 2, $250,000 Maker's Mark Mile on turf is set for April 14. The Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is on May 6.

Cool Conductor, a winner of $630,046, races for David Garner.

He is one of several nice older horses Nicks has in training. Another is Thunder Mission, who was second to Rockport Harbor last out in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex on Feb. 11.

"He ran well," said Nicks, who is now pointing Thunder Mission for the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oaklawn on March 12.

Hines's death ruled a drowning

The preliminary autopsy results for James T. Hines Jr., the owner and breeder of leading 3-year-old Lawyer Ron, confirm the cause of death as drowning, according to Bob Howe, coroner in Daviess County in western Kentucky.

Hines was found dead in his indoor pool on Tuesday. The drowning is believed to be accidental. He was 69. A funeral was held in Kentucky on Friday. Hines is survived by six children and nine grandchildren.

* Rapid Proof breezed five furlongs in 1:03.60 on Friday, and trainer Hal Wiggins said the horse's spring goal is the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf at Sam Houston Race Park on April 8.