02/11/2009 1:00AM

Richland Creek looking good for Lukas

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - D. Wayne Lukas came out firing as the Oaklawn Park meet opened last month to take control of the trainer standings quickly. But in the last few weeks, his barn has had a series of frustrating close-but-no-cigar finishes.

"I think I've had 11 seconds," Lukas said. "Five of them were bad rides, five of them were bad training, and the other one we got outrun!"

Joking aside, things appear to be swinging back to Lukas's favor. He had a sharp maiden winner here Sunday, which lifted him into a tie for second in the standings. And on Friday, he will send out at a capable Richland Creek in the ninth race, a $40,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles. Others in the race include Kentucky Man, Gold Niner, Numismatist, and Menacing.

Richland Creek stacks up well in several categories. He was third at the distance last out in what was his first start since August, so he has reason to move forward. Richland Creek also has competitive Beyer Speed Figures, is a horse for the course with a 3-for-8 record at Oaklawn, and he gets the services of leading rider Terry Thompson.

Kentucky Man, a stalker, is the one Richland Creek might have to hold off in the late stages of Friday's race. He finished second and third in turf routes at Churchill Downs in his last two starts, and for his return to dirt shows a series of good works. Tim Doocy has the mount for trainer Steve Hobby.

Gold Niner ran second to Que Paso in a $35,000 optional claimer at Remington Park in his last start Dec. 14. Que Paso returned to run third in last weekend's $100,000 Essex. Glen Murphy has the mount on Gold Niner for trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

Richland Creek is part of a 50-horse stable Lukas has at Oaklawn. It is an increased presence for the Lukas outfit, which was split between Oaklawn and Gulfstream Park last year.

"I like to have them all right underneath me," Lukas said. "I also love the program here going into Churchill Downs in the spring. We're 3-year-old top-heavy, and here you have a chance to develop a young horse."

Oaklawn also fits into Lukas's plan of racing year-round on conventional dirt, here, then at Churchill and tracks in New York.

"We're going to run on natural soil," Lukas said.