03/01/2005 1:00AM

Rocky River sticks to sprints


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Not all of the good 3-year-olds on the Oaklawn Park backstretch are pointing for two-turn stakes. Rocky River, a stakes winner last year at Arlington Park, will make his seasonal debut Saturday in the $50,000 Mountain Valley at Oaklawn.

The six-furlong race for 3-year-olds is also expected to draw stakes winners Razor and Smoke Smoke Smoke, as well as the promising Sir Laff Alot.

Rocky River was purchased as a 2-year-old for $220,000 last April by Thunderhead Farms. He was a stakes winner by August, scoring a 4 3/4-length victory in the $52,000 Spectacular Bid at seven furlongs at Arlington after winning his maiden over 5 1/2 furlongs in July. In all, Rocky River has won 2 of 3 starts.

"There might be a time we go around two turns," said Don Von Hemel, who trains Rocky River. "Right now, we feel like it's in his best interest to keep him [sprinting]."

Rocky River has been training at Oaklawn since December and shows a series of bullet works for his first start of the year. He last raced Sept. 19, finishing fourth after setting the early pace in the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Washington Futurity, a one-turn mile race at Arlington. Von Hemel said Rocky River has developed nicely from 2 to 3.

"He's matured some," he said. "He's a little easier to handle. I think he's made the transition very well."

Rocky River is a well-made colt whom Von Hemel described as handsome and smart. Rocky River also has an appealing pedigree, getting his natural speed from sire Concorde's Tune.

In fact, he is closely related to Saturday rival Razor. Both are by Concorde's Tune, and Rocky River's dam, the Valid Appeal mare Valid Silk, is a half-sister to Razor.

Terry Thompson, who has been working Rocky River, has the mount Saturday.

True Tails targeting Azalea

True Tails won the first race Sunday with absolute ease. She coasted to a 6 1/2-length win in the six-furlong allowance for 3-year-old fillies, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

Cole Norman, who trains True Tails, said the long-term goal for True Tails is the Grade 3, $300,000 Azalea Breeders' Cup at six furlongs at Calder Race Course on July 9.

Norman has been second and third in the Azalea with Southern Tour and Boston Express.

True Tails won a stakes last fall at Lone Star Park and will use regional sprint stakes as stepping-stones to Calder. Norman said he is looking at races like the $50,000 Wafare at Lone Star on April 23, the $50,000 Dixie Miss at Louisiana Downs on May 21, and the $150,000 Stonerside at Lone Star on May 30.

On Sunday, True Tails covered six furlongs in hand in 1:10.09.

"She ran powerful," said Norman. "She's fast. She's not real big, but the way she travels, she covers some ground. We were pleased. It was a big win for us."

Norman said he believes True Tails will go two turns, but before stretching her out he wants to first target the Azalea.

Boston Express, who won last year's Dixie Miss, has returned to the Norman barn after racing in Florida and is a candidate for the $50,000 Carousel at Oaklawn on April 2.

Rose keeps top company

Jockey Jeremy Rose, who is tied for fourth place in the standings at Oaklawn, has been working two of the best 3-year-olds on the grounds: Afleet Alex and Runway Model. Rose was aboard Runway Model on Sunday, when she drilled five furlongs in preparation for the Grade 2, $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 12.

"He's worked her a couple of times," said Bernie Flint, who trains Runway Model. "He's an excellent hand. He's got a good clock in his head."

Runway Model, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, went back to the track Tuesday. "She's better than she's ever been," said Flint. "She's bigger and she's stronger and faster than she's ever been."

Swamper gets class test

Swamper will be stepping up in class Thursday for the featured ninth race, but he owns some of the field's best Beyer Figures. He will take on seven others in an entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

Swamper last raced in a $40,000 claimer for horses who have never won three races, finishing second to favorite Sultan of Spin and earning a Beyer Figure of 81. Luis Quinonez has the mount for trainer Rick Jackson.

Chindi pulled before race

Chindi, who is closing in on millionaire status, was scratched from an allowance Sunday. An 11-year-old, Chindi was to be ridden by Tim Doocy.

"Doocy told everybody he shin-bucked," joked Steve Hobby, who trains Chindi, referring to an ailment common to young horses. "He had a little bellyache and was treated the night before, so we couldn't run him. We probably could have done without treating him, but I didn't want to take a chance. He was fine the next morning."

Hobby said Chindi was to work Wednesday.