01/16/2009 12:00AM

Feature a peek at Essex

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Some of the best older horses based at Oaklawn Park will meet Sunday in the featured eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance that should serve as a preview of next month's $100,000 Essex Handicap here.

Spotsgone, who won the Essex in 2008, and Jonesboro, who took the 2007 running, both will return from layoffs Sunday, as will Going Ballistic, a career earner of nearly

$1 million. Adding further depth to the seven-horse field is Antrim County, who is seeking his sixth consecutive win.

The Essex could be a destination for Going Ballistic, who on Sunday will be making his first start since May. His connections gave him last summer off after finding a "hot spot" during a bone scan. Going Ballistic returned to the work tab in November.

"He seems to be enjoying his job right now," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Going Ballistic for Kindred Thoroughbreds.

"He's had a long series of works, so I don't believe fitness will be [an issue]. He's been working over a fairly tiring racetrack."

Going Ballistic drilled five furlongs in a bullet 1:03.60 at Oaklawn on Dec. 29 in one of his final preps for his return. He will be ridden by Cliff Berry, and the two could get a nice pace setup thanks to the presence of Spotsgone, who drew the rail, and Jonesboro, who has natural speed.

Spotsgone will be making his first start since May. He was given time off for a stress fracture, and in his final prep for his return he worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:17.80 at Oaklawn on Jan. 10.

"I'm hoping I've got him tight enough to run back - this track has been a tiring track," said Jinks Fires, who trains Spotsgone for Robert Yagos.

Spotsgone won the Essex wire to wire, and figures to be prominent on Sunday under regular rider Joe Johnson.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead, but he likes to be up close," said Fires.

Jonesboro has not seen action since Oct. 19, when he won the $75,000 Remington Park Sprint Championship. It was his second straight stakes win following the $151,000 Tiznow Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 20. Calvin Borel has the mount for trainer Randy Morse.

Antrim County, whose win streak dates back to September, is moving back to dirt after winning a $62,500 optional claimer on turf at Fair Grounds on Dec. 28. Eddie Martin Jr. has the mount for trainer Bret Calhoun.