02/28/2002 1:00AM

Private Emblem meets Clergy in split Southwest


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Private Emblem, a stakes winner at Fair Grounds in his last start, and Clergy, who is undefeated in two career starts, meet at Oaklawn on Saturday in the $75,000 Southwest, which will be run in two divisions after 16 horses were entered in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds.

The only other time the Southwest, a stepping-stone to the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby, was split into divisions was in 1972.

Private Emblem and Clergy will both ship in from Fair Grounds to face a competitive group in the first division, including Richest Half, a winner of four of five starts, including the $50,000 Mountain Valley here Jan. 26, and King Zonic, a half-brother to millionaire Silver Goblin who won his maiden by 10 lengths Feb. 14.

Cojet is the one to beat in the second division of the race, which also drew Interminable Gold, winner of the $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity; Fisher Station, an impressive allowance winner in his last start; and Bay Monster, who finished a sharp second to Kentucky Derby favorite Repent in the maiden ranks last September.

Private Emblem returns to dirt racing after winning the $75,000 Black Gold Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs on turf at Fair Grounds on Jan. 4. Before the Black Gold, he finished third on dirt to Jeremiah Jack in the $150,000 Texan Juvenile at Sam Houston on Dec. 1.

Trainer Steve Asmussen has raced the colt conservatively to give him time to develop.

"He's liable to be an excellent horse, which is why we've spaced his races so much," said Asmussen.

The trainer looks for the colt, who has been working sharply for his return, to be close to the pace in the Southwest.

"He has a lot of speed, and he will have something to say about how fast they're going early," said Asmussen, who has given the mount to Donnie Meche.

Willie Martinez will ride Clergy, a son of Pulpit who makes his first start around two turns on the heels of two impressive, stalking wins going six furlongs at Fair Grounds.

"He does have speed if he wants to use it, but he's manageable, and that's what makes me think he's going to get the two turns," said trainer Frank Brothers.

The trainer added that Clergy has blossomed since last fall. "We're very happy with where the horse is," said Brothers.

Cojet has also come into his own in recent months. In his last start, he romped by 8 1/2 lengths in a six-furlong allowance, earning a career-best 103 Beyer Speed Figure. He will attempt to give trainer Bob Holthus his third straight win in the Southwest.

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