02/21/2007 12:00AM

Richard a surprise early meet leader


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Chris Richard signaled his intent to have a strong Oaklawn Park meet when he won the opening day stakes here with 15-1 shot Irish Dreamer, and since then the barn has kept right on rolling. Richard had a double here Monday, and has maintained a 43 percent win rate for much of the first month of racing at Oaklawn.

The success comes just a year and a half into his training career, launched after Richard, 35, spent five years working as an assistant to trainer Tom Amoss. Richard has 24 horses on the grounds, with Irish Dreamer set to run back here Saturday in the $50,000 Mountain Valley for 3-year-old sprinters. He owns the field's highest last-race Beyer Figure, a 90.

"I think he's going to run just as good in this race as he did in the last race," said Richard. "I think people might think that he just jumped up and ran a huge race, but I think he's a pretty solid little colt. If you look at his race record, when we've kept him at six furlongs or below he's run extremely well. I think he's really going to run a big race."

Richard has won 9 races from 21 starts this meet to sit tied atop the trainer standings with Wayne Lukas through Wednesday.

"The horses have been running well," said Richard. "Really, we had a lot of horses with conditions that had been running, and had been running well. And coming from Hawthorne, everything was very racing fit, and Hawthorne is kind of a deep surface like Oaklawn is, so they were able to acclimate very well once we got here."

Richard said another factor in the fast start has been the support of rider Eddie Razo Jr., who will again be aboard Irish Dreamer.

"Eddie's a top rider," said Richard.

Richard had a solid meet last year, his first at Oaklawn.

"I liked it here last year," he said. "I didn't have many horses here last year - obviously just going out on my own I only had like six horses - but we won five races, so we had a good meet from a limited amount of starters. So, that was the plan, to come back here."

Richard's main clients include K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman, the leading owners at Oaklawn, who race Irish Dreamer. Richard also has horses for Maggi Moss, who last year was the leading owner in wins in North America. Biglie Smallworld, who breezed here Wednesday, is a stakes winner whom Richard trains for Moss.

"He was my first stakes winner when I went out on my own last year," said Richard. "He was third in the Spectacular Bid at Arlington, and went on to win the Juvenile Stakes at Prairie Meadows in September. We freshened him up after the race, we just gave him a little bit of time off, and he's just now starting back breezing, and he'll probably be ready to run toward the end of March. He's really a nice horse. I expect to have a very productive summer with him."

Plaid to Sunland?

Plaid, winner of the $50,000 Pippin last Saturday, could make her next start at Sunland Park, said her trainer, Steve Asmussen. Plaid, a $20,000 claim turned four-time stakes winner, races for J. Kirk and Judy Robison of New Mexico.

"She's probably going to go to El Paso for the Harry Henson," said Asmussen. "The Pippin was her bridge to that."

The $100,000 Harry Henson Breeders' Cup is on March 18. Asmussen won three straight runnings of the race from 2002-2004.