03/20/2006 1:00AM

Long-absent pair hard to gauge


Step right up and pick your layoff horse in the featured ninth race on Wednesday at Oaklawn Park. Will it be Monkey Hill, or do you prefer Wild Wild West?

These two, if they return in form from substantial layoffs, look like the best of seven horses entered in a third-level sprint allowance race with a $62,500 claiming option. It's toward that big "if," however, that handicappers need to direct their brainpower.

is trained by Tom Amoss, whose operation - like many others at Oaklawn this winter - was disrupted by Hurricane Katrina's shuttering of Fair Grounds. Amoss is one of the Fair Grounds kingpins, but his Oaklawn meet this year has been only decent, so far producing four winners from 32 starters. Amoss won at a 24 percent clip last season, and nearly hit 30 percent two years ago, so it's worth noting that his record with long-layoff horses stands at just 8 percent. Monkey Hill hasn't been out since last July, when he was off form and finished seventh at Arlington Park.

is a 5-year-old Iowa-bred who nearly always is in the exacta. His record from 18 career starts stands at 6 wins, 8 seconds, and zero show finishes. Wild Wild West's last race came in August, however, and his trainer, Kelly Von Hemel, has gone 1 for 23 with long-layoff horses the last couple of seasons.

So while Wild Wild West's workouts look excellent, and he scored a blowout win over entry-level allowance foes when he last raced at Oaklawn, it's also fair to wonder if his best race will be seen on Wednesday.

A logical place to turn if one stands against the layoff horses is No Term Limit, who steps up in class after beating 11 in a second-level sprint allowance Feb. 25 at Oaklawn. But was 44-1 in that race, and since he had never run so well in 17 previous starts, it's fair to wonder if he can duplicate the performance.

Been Wavering and Dudon look like potential fast-pace victims, and King Freddie simply does not look good enough. Which leaves us with one last horse, Shrewd Deputy, who might as well be a layoff horse, since he has failed to show anything close to his best in five starts dating back to last July. But Shrewd Deputy was something of a terror at this meet last season - he came within a neck of beating the stakes horse Rodeo's Castle - and maybe a return to his favorite venue for the first time since last March will provide a much-needed wake-up call.