04/01/2008 12:00AM

Officer Rocket hitting stride as sprinter


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Officer Rocket has something of a new look as a 4-year-old.

The colt, who spent a good part of last year racing around two turns, has come out sprinting in 2008. He ran second in a pair of six-furlong optional claimers at Oaklawn Park in his last two starts, and will start as a top contender when he runs back at the same level and distance in the featured ninth race Wednesday.

Officer Rocket is part of a competitive six-horse field that includes George Ray, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 last out for a win in a first-level allowance at Oaklawn; Gyrovagi, who makes his season debut after going 3 for 4 in 2007; and Biglie Smallworld, a stakes winner who is removing blinkers for trainer Tom Amoss.

Officer Rocket won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at a mile at Arlington Park in 2006, then last year participated in all three of Oaklawn's route stakes for 3-year-olds. He was second in the Southwest and Rebel, and seventh in the Arkansas Derby.

For this year, trainer Bob Holthus decided to change plans.

"We decided at the start of the year to keep him at a mile and under," said Holthus. "There hasn't been a race going a mile for him, and we sprinted him and he ran a good race the last time. We hope for that same kind of effort Wednesday."

Officer Rocket was prominent throughout from the rail in a $65,000 optional claimer in his last start, on March 15, and finished second by a head. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. Wednesday, he will break from post 4 under Calvin Borel.

"I think he'll stay up pretty close," said Holthus. "Calvin kind of gets him in the race early, and it seems like he runs better. So, I'd look for him to lay third, fourth and hopefully come on."

George Ray stalked the pace and went on to a one-length win in his allowance start March 16. He covered six furlongs in a sharp 1:09.40 to earn the Beyer of 104. It was the fourth win for the gelding, whose victories are split between turf and dirt. He is a son of Gold Spring, a Grade 3-winning sprinter who earned $394,830.

"The Gold Springs, as they get older, they get better," said Sonny Wigginton, who co-owns and trains George Ray and who also trained Gold Spring.

Chris Emigh has the mount on George Ray.

* There is a $12,480 pick-six carryover for Wednesday.