03/13/2009 12:00AM

Old Fashioned unbeaten and still rising


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - With just seven weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby, it will be hard to dislodge Old Fashioned from the role of division leader if he keeps winning. Undefeated in four career starts, he will be a strong favorite to win again on Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/16-mile race will be the second start of the year for Old Fashioned, who picked off the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest in his season opener here last month. He heads a field of nine for the Rebel, which also drew Silver City, the runner-up from the Southwest; Captain Cherokee, a half-brother to two-time Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute; and promising locals Wise Kid and Hamazing Destiny.

Old Fashioned solidified his status as the Derby favorite on Feb. 16, when he returned to action a winner in the Southwest, his first start since a Nov. 29 romp in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct. Now, all that stands between Old Fashioned and the Kentucky Derby are the Rebel and the April 11 Arkansas Derby.

"You just got to keep winning," said Larry Jones, who trains Old Fashioned for Rick Porter. "If he's going to stay the Derby favorite, he can't get beat."

Jones said the horse is ready to move forward off the Southwest, a race in which he tracked a hot pace and went on to a 3 1/4-length win to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

"I think that race under us, I think he'll finish stronger," Jones said. "He's doing very well. He's actually even put on a little bit of weight since the Southwest. He's developing like you like to see 3-year-olds do right now."

Old Fashioned will break from the rail under Ramon Dominguez. There is a chance of a wet track for Saturday, and Jones said such footing would be okay for Old Fashioned.

Silver City invades from Fair Grounds, but has been racing at Oaklawn. He won the $50,000 Dixieland in January with a Beyer Figure of 101, then came back and held well for second in the Southwest. In that one-mile race, Silver City ran the opening half-mile in 45.80 seconds, tracked by Old Fashioned.

"He showed me a lot of heart and a lot of grit," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Silver City. "It was his first time around two turns, he set suicide fractions, and hung on very gamely."

Silver City has some things in his favor for the rematch. He drew to the outside of Old Fashioned, in gate 8, and will tote five pounds less than his main rival - 122 to 117.

"And, second time two turns is going to help me," said Calhoun, who has given the mount to Jon Court.

Wise Kid, a two-time winner at 1 1/16 miles this meet, appears poised to improve off a 4 1/4-length allowance win Feb. 27.

"I expect him to, because he won his last race fairly easily; I don't think it took anything out of him," said Tim Ritchey, who trains Wise Kid. "And, he's training into the race in great fashion.

"I think he's a horse that's improving at the right time."

Hamazing Destiny will make his two-turn debut following a maiden victory by 10 1/2 lengths, for which he earned a Beyer Figure of 96. He won for trainer Mac Robertson, but was sold in a private deal and on Saturday will make his first start for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

"I'm trying to experiment here to see if he will handle two turns," Lukas said. "But from where I'm sitting, I really don't need to improve him. I just got to keep him where Mac had him."

The Rebel Day card traditionally draws a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000