02/25/2004 1:00AM

Private Emblem takes familiar path


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Private Emblem, who remained perfect at Oaklawn with his win in the Grade 3 Essex Handicap last Saturday, will skip next month's Razorback and train up to the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 3, said his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

"It's the same formula that won the Arkansas Derby for him," he said.

Private Emblem won a division of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in 2002, but skipped the next stakes in the track's 3-year-old series, the Rebel, and waited for the Arkansas Derby. The win was one of four he has racked up here.

Private Emblem's love of the track might have more to do with mountain air than surface preference.

"I think he likes the climate," said Asmussen. "His appetite is better. He's better in his stall. He's just physically a stronger horse there. Physically, he does better there."

Private Emblem can push his earnings beyond the $1 million mark with a win in the Oaklawn Handicap. A son of Our Emblem, he races for James Cassels and Bob Zollars.

Distance test for Wildcat Shoes

Wildcat Shoes, who used his speed to win the $60,000 Sugar Bowl in December at Fair Grounds, will make his two-turn debut in the $100,000 Southwest for 3-year-olds on Saturday. He is one of three colts trainer Jinks Fires is pointing for the Southwest. The others are Got the Goods and Pyramid Performer.

Fires searched the Midwest for a 3-year-old sprint stakes for Wildcat Shoes, but did not find a satisfactory race for him. He recently worked Wildcat Shoes one mile, was pleased with how he handled the drill, and is looking forward to the Southwest.

"If you're ever going to try a sprinter going long, this is the place to do it going a mile," said Fires. "It's not a long way home when you turn down the lane."

The Southwest will end at the alternate finish line at the sixteenth pole, as do all one-mile races at Oaklawn.

Wildcat Shoes last raced Jan. 24, and finished second by a neck in the $50,000 Mountain Valley at Oaklawn. He has set the pace in all of his races, but his speed is manageable.

"He'll rate," said Fires, who has given the mount to Terry Thompson.

Got the Goods won a one-mile allowance by a head over Pyramid Performer in the last start for both horses on Feb. 7.

Fires's crop of 3-year-olds runs even deeper. He trains Maisie's Son, who is being pointed for the $200,000 Rebel at Oaklawn on March 20. On Jan. 2 at Fair Grounds, Maisie's Son finished a close second to eventual Grade 3 Risen Star winner Gradepoint in a two-turn allowance. In his most recent start on Feb. 15, Maisie's Son was third to another promising colt, Breakaway, in an allowance at Fair Grounds.

Maisie's Son reared in the gate in the race, hit his head, and skinned up a leg some, but avoided serious injuries, said Fires.

"Most of the time when that happens to a horse they usually don't run a jump," he said. "But he still wound up third. We are giving him some time, and will go to the Rebel."

Fires had two 3-year-old maiden winners at Oaklawn last Sunday: impressive debut runner First Approval ($50.40), and Gold Panic ($23.20). He has another 3-year-old maiden, American Power, entered Friday.

"It's all just kind of come together for our 3-year-olds," said Fires. "Some years it happens that way, and sometimes you can't get one to break its maiden by this time of the year."

Chindi preps for Hot Springs

Chindi, the 10-year-old closer who was third in the $50,000 King Cotton last out while making his first start since July, heads a field of nine in the featured ninth race Friday.

A 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer, the race should produce starters for the $50,000 Hot Springs Stakes on March 21.

The optional claiming field also includes That Tat, Cojet, Pie's Lil Brother, and Zee Oh Six.

* Number Juan, sixth last out in the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita, and Two Down Automatic, third last out in the Grade 3 Lecomte, have joined the field for the Southwest, according to track officials. Number Juan was scheduled to fly to Hot Springs on Thursday.