01/29/2011 8:09PM

Native Ruler hardly looks rusty returning in King Cotton

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Jeff Coady/ Coady Photography
The 7-year-old Native Ruler emerges from a pack of horses to take the King Cotton by a neck.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.- Native Ruler indicated he might be sitting on his best Oaklawn Park season yet on Saturday, when, in his first start since September, he edged a wall of horses by a neck to win the $50,000 King Cotton.

“Don’t ask me why, but at 7-years-old he’s as good as he’s ever been,” said Chris Richard, who trains Native Ruler for Maggi Moss.

The King Cotton was the first of two local preps for the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 14 and that race is the ultimate goal this meet for Native Ruler, said Richard.

Native Ruler, who also won the King Cotton in 2009, tracked the pace in third as Mighty Rule showed the way through an opening half-mile in 45.87 seconds. Native Ruler  came into the stretch three-wide, then won a four-way rush to the wire. Native Ruler ($8.60) covered six furlongs in 1:10.15, under Terry Thompson.

It was the fourth Oaklawn win for Native Ruler from six starts at the track. Overall, he picked up his 15th career win Saturday and his ninth stakes win. Native Ruler has now earned $564,196.

“He’s been a lot of fun for us,” said Richard, noting Moss claimed Native Ruler for $25,000 when he was 3.

Richard said the horse would most likely make his next start in the $60,000 Hot Springs on March 20.

Might Rule held second, while it was another neck back in third to River Bear.

Attendance ontrack was 17,199.