02/18/2010 12:00AM

Oaklawn roundup

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SOUTHWEST SHUFFLE

Redrawing a race is like reshuffling a deck of cards. You never know what you're going to get the second time around. So even though the field for Saturday's rescheduled Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest was expected to remain intact when entries were taken for it again Thursday, several factors could change the complexion of the race. It starts with the draw, which might affect some of the runners in the one-mile stakes that will begin and end at the sixteenth pole at Oaklawn.

For the original Southwest, which was canceled Monday because of inclement weather, Conveyance, the probable favorite and a serious speed horse, drew an accommodating post 2. Meanwhile, one of the top local hopes, winner Dublin, was stuck in post 10.

"That made me sick to my stomach," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of the Dublin's original draw. "Of all the spots, that was the last place I wanted to be."

Lukas said earlier this week he was hoping for an improved post for Dublin. The horse is one of several from the original field who were to have works here in advance of the new Southwest date, and that, too, is a factor that could change the complexion of the race.

The shippers from Florida and Southern California have been out of their environment longer than planned now and were to work over a surface that is new to them. Trainers no doubt have concerns, from a horse spending too much energy close to the race to whether he can emerge healthy from a serious physical expenditure that was not part of the original plan leading up to game day. The works might also have taken away some of the element of surprise among rivals.

"We all get to see everybody's cards," said Lynn Whiting, who trains quick local hope Dryfly.

Cardiff Giant, the runner-up to Conveyance in last month's at Santa Anita, was the first from the original Southwest cast to work back since the Southwest cancellation. He shuttled a bullet three furlongs in 36.40 seconds at Oaklawn on Tuesday. The track did not open until 3:25 p.m. because of freezing temperatures overnight, and Cardiff Giant came out second set under exercise rider Francisco Mercado.

He loosened up for about 1 1/2 miles before jumping into his work at the three-eighths pole. Oaklawn head clocker Jim Hamilton had his first eighth of a mile in 13.60 seconds and his final eighth in 11.13. Hamilton had him galloping out a half-mile in 48.60. It was a strong move for Cardiff Giant, a Jorge Periban-trained horse who will be making his first start on conventional dirt Saturday.

Other factors that could affect the Southwest are rider changes. Earlier this week, some were still being determined, but by Tuesday trainer Todd Pletcher had lined up Eibar Coa to ride the Grade 3-placed Mission Impazible. John Velazquez, who had originally been named to ride, had prior stakes engagements Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

A VON HEMEL SPECIALTY

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel is hitting at a 21 percent rate with runners coming back from a layoff of 61 to 180 days. It is a stat to consider Saturday, when Sweet Relish makes her first start since September in the $60,000 Spring Fever for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs at Oaklawn.

For her return, she has worked five bullets at Oaklawn, with her Feb. 10 drill a five-eighths move in 1:00.40. The work came under exercise Brandon Velarde, who has been aboard for all of Sweet Relish's local drills except her gate work, which came under regular rider Cliff Berry.

"She's very aggressive in the mornings, one that tends to work bullets," said Von Hemel.

For Von Hemel, there is no particular training pattern that drives his layoff stats. He said it's more about each horse's predisposition to excel off the bench and the circumstances leading up to their comebacks.

"It varies so much - why each horse was off, the caliber of horse they are - it's hard to draw conclusions," said Von Hemel. "To me, it's an individual thing."

Sweet Relish, who is a stakes winner at seven furlongs, will not be the only accomplished runner making her return in the Spring Fever. Grade 3 winner Palanka City, who has not raced since last March, has turned in a handful of local bullets herself for the Spring Fever.

ON THE STAKES DOCKET

The Southwest is the first of two graded preps for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby. With its original date having to be pushed back, the race will fall three weeks from the second prep, the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel on March 13. Last year, there were four weeks between the Southwest and Rebel.

The stakes action Saturday also will include the Spring Fever. Among the nominees to the race is Dubai Majesty, who was beaten a nose in the at Santa Anita on Jan. 30.

TALES FROM THE TRACK

Lukas, who is on the Kentucky Derby trail with Dublin, recalls an incident in which he was heckled at Churchill Downs in 1988, when super filly Winning Colors ran in the Kentucky Derby instead of the Kentucky Oaks. It occurred when he and his staff were making the famed walk up to the paddock for the classic with their prized Winning Colors.

"There were a bunch of young [adults] there, and of course, they'd had a few margaritas or mint juleps, I guess," Lukas said. "So we come walking by leading her as proud as we can be, strutting over there, and the kids come down to the fence and say, 'You dumb SOB. They ran the fillies yesterday. Can't you read the condition book?'

"So we just ignored them," he said. "We go over, we win the Derby. We come back with the garland of roses and the blanket, and the same guys come down to the fence and say, 'Wayne, we had you every step of the way. We had you every step of the way!' "

HORSES TO WATCH

Follow The Leader

Trainer: Lynn Whiting

Last race: Feb. 11, 7th

Finish:1st by 4 3/4

He was full of run while sitting in behind horses along the rail of a maiden special weight at six furlongs, and when clear he opened up on the field. He covered the distance in 1:10.40, one of the best times for the distance this meet. The race was the second start for Follow the Leader, who earned a Beyer Figure of 91. He is a 4-year-old son of popular Arkansas Derby winner Smarty Jones.

Laura Babe

Trainer: Richard Jackson

Last race: Feb. 13, 9th

Finish: 5th by 5 1/2

She broke in the air at the start of the $75,000 Martha Washington and found herself much farther off the pace than usual in the one-mile race. Laura Babe then came wide into the stretch and closed with good energy to finish fifth to a Grade 3 winner. She has won on both dirt and turf.

Miss Sweet N Sour

Trainer: Brad Hemba

Last race: Feb. 14, 9th

Finish: 3rd by 10 3/4 lengths

She made a favorable physical impression in the paddock prior to the start of a $40,000 optional claiming route for 3-year-old fillies. Miss Sweet N Sour then went out an ran a creditable third in her two-turn debut, against a field that included a pair of stakes-caliber fillies in No Such Word and Tap Tap Tapping.