03/18/2011 3:29PM

Oaklawn's Hot Springs should get top effort from Native Ruler

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. − Native Ruler showed class and guts when he forged to a neck win in the $50,000 King Cotton at Oaklawn on Jan. 29. The race was his first in five months, and he has reason to take a significant step forward Sunday, when he returns in the $75,000 Hot Springs.

A six-furlong race for 4-year-olds and up, the Hot Springs is the final stepping-stone to Native Ruler’s ultimate goal this meet, the Grade 3, $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 14. He will face five others Sunday, including Chief of Affairs, who was second by a neck in last year’s Count Fleet, and recent allowance winners Inkado and Coronet of a Baron.

A multiple stakes winner of more than $550,000, Native Ruler ran arguably one of the best races of his career in the King Cotton, which was his first start since September. He tracked a solid pace and fought for the win while surrounded by rivals on both sides. Native Ruler covered six furlongs in a sharp 1:10 and earned a Beyer Figure of 94.

Chris Richard, who trains Native Ruler for Maggi Moss, said he is looking for Native Ruler to move forward in the Hot Springs.

“I thought he was not 100 percent fit for his last race, coming off the layoff and losing some time with training due to the weather,” Richard said. “He was close, but I thought he was maybe one or two works away from having his peak effort.

“He ran just a monster race, and we’ve had six weeks between races,” he said. “He sure came out of the race in good shape. He’s been breezing very well and is doing very good. I expect a big race from him this weekend.”

The effort from Native Ruler in the King Cotton also suggested he is sitting on a big 2011.

“I think he’s better than he’s ever been,” Richard said. “I wish I could tell you why. He’s 7 years old, and I don’t know if he just hit his prime at 7, but physically, and everything, he’s just as good as he’s ever been.”

Terry Thompson has the mount from post 2.

Inkado and Chief of Affairs were separated by a neck last out in a $50,000 optional claiming allowance Feb. 19. Coronet of a Baron, meanwhile, was a sweeping winner of a $35,000 optional claiming allowance Feb. 24.