08/13/2003 12:00AM

Hills back in town with Jeb's Wild

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Tim Hills isn't likely to soon forget his first visit to Woodbine, when he sent out Joe's Son Joey in the 2002 Nearctic.

Joe's Son Joey was running the race of his life in the Nearctic and had assumed a clear lead with a furlong to run when disaster nearly struck.

Joe's Son Joey caught sight of a bare patch on the turf course, which he attempted to hurdle while his jockey, Nick Santagata, did his best impression of a stunt rider and desperately hung on.

And while Santagata did, miraculously, maintain his perch, the diversion allowed Nuclear Debate to rush by and snatch victory from Joe's Son Joey in the final yards.

"That was a remarkable race," said Hills, who has divisions at Monmouth Park and Saratoga.

Hills had intended to bring back Joe's Son Joey for this year's Nearctic until the horse's training schedule was interrupted.

Instead he will be returning Saturday with a new shooter, as Jeb's Wild will go in the Play the King Handicap, a seven-furlong turf race that offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $165,000.

Jeb's Wild, a 4-year-old colt owned by Thomas Croley, comes into the Play the King in excellent form, having rallied smartly to win the John McSorley Stakes over five furlongs on turf at Monmouth on July 6.

"He's extremely improved this year," said Hills. "As a 3-year-old, he was still pretty immature mentally."

Jeb's Wild, unplaced in two main-track outings at 2, won his maiden going a mile on turf in his 3-year-old debut last July at Monmouth. The colt followed up with two solid efforts in turf stakes there, running second in the 1 1/16-mile Lamplighter and winning the one-mile Spend a Buck, but then turned in a series of poor efforts.

"I took him to Florida over the winter," said Hills, "and he started to get his act together again."

Jeb's Wild competed in three main-track sprints at Gulfstream, with fair results, before finishing third in the Yankee Affair over five furlongs on turf there April 12.

Three starts later, Jeb's Wild won the McSorley.

Hills believes that Saturday's Play the King distance falls well within Jeb's Wild's range.

"I think seven furlongs is perfect for him," said the trainer. "He's not real quick out of the gate, but he has enough gate speed to get positioned, and his finish is strong."

Besides the immediate financial incentive, the Play the King could serve Jeb's Wild in other respects.

"Jeb's Wild has potential to be a stallion prospect, because his mother is a half-sister to Beautiful Pleasure," Hills said. "That makes graded-stakes wins or placings become more valuable."

Jeb's Wild and Beautiful Pleasure, winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff and North America's champion filly or mare in 1999, are out of Beautiful Bid, who also produced Arlington Million winner Mecke.

The Play the King also could earn Jeb's Wild a ticket to the $1 million Atto Mile, a Grade 1 turf race here Sept. 14.

"With a strong effort, we'd definitely consider it," Hills said.

Brass in Pocket heads allowance

Brass in Pocket, a winner of three stakes races this year, will be the one to beat in Friday's $80,900 allowance feature, which has attracted a stakes-caliber field of five fillies and mares.

The 6 1/2-furlong race originally was offered last Saturday, billed as the prep for the $125,000 Seaway Stakes, and was on its last legs as a carryover when it finally filled Tuesday morning.

The seven-furlong Seaway will be run here Aug. 31.

Brass in Pocket will break from the outside post, a tactical advantage for the filly, who has been successful with rallying, stalking, and front-running styles this season.

David Clark retains the mount on the 4-year-old, who will carry high weight of 124 pounds for the third consecutive time.

Roman Romance, beaten a neck as the runner-up to Brass in Pocket in the six-furlong Ballade here June 11, came back to record her first stakes win in the six-furlong Centre Stage Anne at Fort Erie on July 1.

Based at Fort Erie, Roman Romance hasn't been accorded proper mutuel respect in her recent local appearances, but that could be about to change as her Ballade rider, Todd Kabel, returns to the saddle.

Sheila's Prospect, winner of the Grade 3, seven-furlong Bessarabian in her finale here last fall, ran poorly in her first two main-track appearances this spring. She was second when she made her turf debut last time out, though, and could be back in the groove.

Mysterious Affair, who recently passed the $1 million mark in career earnings but appears to have lost a step at age 6, and Mille Feville, the only non-stakes winner in the lineup, figure to hook up early but could be in trouble late.