01/30/2007 12:00AM

Holthus looks for his sixth Southwest

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Bob Holthus has won the Southwest Stakes a record five times, including the last two runnings with Lawyer Ron and Greater Good. Tuesday morning, he put his starter for this year's renewal, Grade 3 winner Officer Rocket, through a major work. The Southwest, which is worth $250,000, will open up Oaklawn Park's series for 3-year-olds on Feb. 19.

Officer Rocket breezed six furlongs in 1:12.40 right after the renovation break, on a fast track. He went into his work at the five-furlong pole and continued the drill past the wire to the seven-eighths pole in a steady move under Calvin Borel.

Clockers followed Officer Rocket through fractions of 12 seconds for the opening eighth of a mile, 23.60 for the first quarter, 34 for three furlongs, and 59.80 for five-eighths.

"He worked good; everybody's pleased," said Holthus. "He'll probably have another work back in about 10 days. He'll have one more pretty good three-quarter-mile work and a little blowout a couple of days before the race, and that will be it."

Officer Rocket won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity in a dead heat with Got the Last Laugh at Arlington Park in September. He comes into the Southwest following a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the $50,000 Dixieland, a 5 1/2-furlong race on Jan. 19.

"He had the misfortune of getting away here real bad, but he made a good effort through the stretch," said Holthus.

Officer Rocket will be looking for his first two-turn win in the one-mile Southwest. He has won 3 of 6 career starts, with a maiden win in his second out last July. One start later Officer Rocket won the Spectacular Bid at Arlington by 13 lengths, and he then captured the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

He went on to finish fifth in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs in October, and after the race was found to have displaced his soft palate and had minor throat surgery, said Holthus. Officer Rocket then made his two-turn debut in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on Dec. 1, and finished sixth after racing prominently early in the 1 1/16-mile race.

"I don't think he cared for the track a whole lot," said Holthus. "And then the pace was just brutal. But he's come back here and trained well. He's matured. He's put on weight, which you want a 3-year-old to do this time of year. We've been pleased with his health and everything. We just have to see if he has enough talent to go on and stay with those horses."

Hard Spun is the favorite for the Southwest. Considered one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, he has won all four of his starts by a combined 28 lengths, his latest the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds, for which he earned a Beyer Figure of 95.

Pegasus Wind is also pointing for the Southwest. The third-place finisher in the Grade 1 Champagne last fall, he made his season debut Saturday in a six-furlong optional claimer and finished seventh. The track was listed as wet-fast after rain fell on and off, and Pegasus Wind did not handle the surface that day, said his trainer, Wayne Lukas.

"If it's kind of like peanut butter, a little bit sticky, he doesn't like it," he said. "We'll draw a line through that one and go on."

Going Ballistic is also pointing for the Southwest, according to his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel. A two-time stakes winner around two turns, he was fourth last out in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and depending on the weather is scheduled to work this weekend, said Von Hemel.

Holthus trains Officer Rocket for Frank Fletcher Racing Operations, for whom he won the 2001 Southwest with Son of Rocket. Officer Rocket, who was bred in Great Britain, was purchased for $190,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2-year-olds in training auction last March. He is a son of Officer, and his dam, Ocean View, was multiple Grade 1-placed and earned $154,846.

Holthus also won the Southwest in 2000 with Afternoon Affair and in 1988 with Proper Reality.

Getting in step with Steppenwolfer

Steppenwolfer came out of a five-furlong breeze last Saturday in good order, and it put him one step closer to his first start of the year. The third-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby, Steppenwolfer could make his return next week in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap on Feb. 10.

"If we work Saturday, stay on schedule, and he works good and comes back good, we're going to try to make the Essex," said Dan Peitz, who trains Steppenwolfer. "If we miss a few days this week, obviously that's not what I'm looking for. So, we'll see how the week goes."

Peitz and other trainers have been monitoring the weather. The track did not open for training Monday because of freezing temperatures; a similar forecast for overnight Tuesday led the track to plan to open late on Wednesday. Rain is forecast for Thursday, but for the remainder of the week, forecasts call for sunny skies and highs in the 40's.

Steppenwolfer breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 last Saturday under Tim Doocy. Peitz said he wants to put a six-furlong work into the colt this weekend. In his last start, Steppenwolfer was fourth in the Belmont Stakes.