01/31/2008 12:00AM

Going Wild tests pair who love the course

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Junior College and Semaphore Man, who between them have won 8 of 13 starts at Oaklawn Park, will defend their home course against Fair Grounds invader Going Wild on Saturday in the $50,000 King Cotton.

The six-furlong race for older horses is the first local stakes on the road to the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap here April 10, and judging from the seven-horse field the sprint division here will be strong this meet.

"It's a good bunch of horses, a lot of multiple stakes winners in here," said Kelly Von Hemel, who trains Semaphore Man.

Semaphore Man has won 5 of 9 starts at Oaklawn, including last year's King Cotton. He comes into this year's running off a third-place finish to the undefeated Euroears in the $100,000 Gaudin Memorial at Fair Grounds on Jan. 12. The race was Semaphore Man's first start since May.

"I think you'll see him run a much stronger race than he did down in New Orleans," Von Hemel said. "He got a little tired, and he came back and worked real good."

Semaphore Man held his own against some top-flight sprinters last year. He finished second by a half-length to Grade 1 winner Bordonaro in the Count Fleet, then was third to Diabolical in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap at Pimlico on May 19. Following that race, Diabolical won the Grade 2 Vanderbilt.

Tim Doocy has the mount on Semaphore Man, who will break from the rail. Junior College drew what might prove to be a better tactical post, getting gate 7. He is 3 for 4 at Oaklawn, and in his last two starts captured a pair of stakes in Kentucky.

Junior College won the $50,000 Holiday Cheer at Turfway Park on Dec. 29, one start after he covered six furlongs in a blazing 1:08.80 at Churchill Downs in the $62,000 Bet on Sunshine on Nov. 17.

"He had a great year," said Tony Reinstedler, who trains Junior College and has given the mount to Jesus Castanon.

Going Wild is making his Oaklawn debut. A multiple stakes winner, he comes into the King Cotton off a third-place finish in the $100,000 Bonapaw, an off-the-turf stakes at Fair Grounds on Dec. 22.

"He was coming hard late, but five and a half is just a hair short for him," Bret Calhoun, the trainer of Going Wild, said of the Bonapaw. "I think his optimum distance is six furlongs to a mile."

Going Wild finished second by a neck in the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at six furlongs prior to the Bonapaw.

Others adding depth to the King Cotton include Officer Rocket, the runner-up in last year's Grade 3 Rebel and Southwest here, and Greeley's Conquest, who is 2 for 2 locally.