01/21/2009 12:00AM

Silver City heads Southwest prospects


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Silver City was one of a trio of 3-year-olds who put themselves in the picture for next month's Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest with impressive opening-weekend wins at Oaklawn. Others emerging as candidates for the one-mile race here Feb. 16 were Flat Out, who dominated the $50,000 Smarty Jones on Monday, and Poltergeist, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for a first-level allowance romp Saturday.

Silver City earned a Beyer Figure of 99 for his easy win in the $50,000 Dixieland last Friday. He stalked the pace and cruised home by four lengths in the 5 1/2-furlong race. It was the third straight win and the stakes debut for Silver City, a $700,000 auction purchase sired by Unbridled's Song.

"We've been extremely high on him for a long time, and it's nice to see it work out that way," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Silver City for Clarence Scharbauer Jr.

Calhoun said Silver City will now be pointed for the Southwest, which will be the horse's first race around two turns. Calhoun said he walked away from the Dixieland feeling Silver City could be effective at the trip, as did his regular rider, Miguel Mena.

"There were a couple of positive things," Calhoun said. "Talking to Miguel, he said he settled good for him. He said a lot of times, when a horse comes up beside him, he takes off. He said he was very willing to sit Friday. So, I can see some progression mentally, and that's kind of what we were looking for."

Calhoun also liked that Silver City finished full of run in the Dixieland.

"I know five and a half is a long ways from a mile, but he's got a lot of pedigree to do it, and now he's starting to relax a little better," Calhoun said. "I don't see any reason he won't stretch out. And maybe that's what we took out of that race. He was very, very strong at the end."

Silver City has since returned to Fair Grounds, where he is based.

Flat Out made a sweeping four-wide move into the stretch to win the Smarty Jones by 3 1/2 lengths.

"We're still talking about our options," said Scooter Dickey, the trainer of Flat Out. "We've nominated to the Southwest. He's won at Fair Grounds and he's won here, so we know he likes both tracks."

Flat Out won his maiden at Fair Grounds on Dec. 14.

Poltergeist rolled by six lengths in a one-mile allowance, his second win in five starts.

"We'll probably look at the Southwest," his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, said Wednesday.

Also expected for the Southwest, which is coming up a very strong race, are Remsen winner Old Fashioned and San Rafael runner-up Square Eddie.

Storm Mesa could return late in meet

Storm Mesa, the winner of last year's Grade 2 San Clemente at Del Mar, returned to training about two weeks ago, Calhoun said. She is based at Louisiana Downs and could make her first start back in the later stages of the Oaklawn meet, which runs through April 11.

"There's a good chance of that, just because timing-wise she ought to be getting ready about then, and this is probably one of the few places I can get a race for her," Calhoun said. "I would say here or Keeneland."

Storm Mesa was freshened following a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Oct. 11. Her other stakes wins last year came in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and the $100,000 Cinemine at Lone Star Park, a race for which she earned a Beyer of 108.

Calhoun said the goal for Storm Mesa this year is to win a Grade 1.

Mr. Nightlinger, a four-time stakes winner in 2008, is also back in training at Louisiana Downs. He returned on the same van as Storm Mesa following his freshening, said Calhoun.

Borel, Court off to Sunshine Millions

Jockey Calvin Borel will not be riding at Oaklawn on Friday or Saturday because of engagements in south Florida, said his agent, Jerry Hissam. Borel has the mount on Delightful Kiss in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Saturday. That same morning, he is scheduled to work Beethoven in preparation for the Grade 3, $150,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Jan. 31.

Borel guided Beethoven to victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill in November. The last time Borel traveled from Oaklawn to Florida to work a 3-year-old was 2007, when he was getting on Street Sense, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Hissam said Borel is scheduled to ride here Sunday.

Jon Court will also be riding in the Sunshine Millions program on Saturday, but at Santa Anita. He has the mount on Briecat in the $500,000 Distaff.

Solid opening week

Oaklawn drew 56,405 patrons over its four-day opening weekend, an average of 14,101 a day, and handled $13.7 million on its live races from all sources, an average of $3.4 million a card and an increase from the 2008 opening weekend. Last year, 61,022 attended over the four-day opening weekend, while handle on Oaklawn's races from all sources was $13.4 million.

Officials were pleased that Friday's opening-day card went as scheduled, because the temperature never rose above 25 degrees, which kept track maintenance crews working all night Thursday and affected attendance Friday. There were 15,863 patrons on hand for the opener, versus 20,819 a year ago, when the temperature was in the 40s.

"It was such a rough way to start out with that very cold weather on Friday," said an Oaklawn spokesman, Terry Wallace. "The fact that we had such a good Saturday, Sunday, and Monday - those were very positive indicators."

* Coy's Steakhouse, a popular after-races restaurant and an institution in Hot Springs, was destroyed by fire on the eve of the meet last Thursday.