03/23/2004 1:00AM

Skeet the new shooter in Count Fleet Sprint

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn on April 8 was looking like it might be a showdown between Shake You Down and Beau's Town. Now, however, they both have to be concerned with Skeet.

Skeet has put together two powerful stakes wins in his two starts at the meet. He captured the $50,000 Hot Springs last Sunday and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 108, and before that earned a Beyer Figure of 107 for his four-length score in the $50,000 King Cotton.

In both races, Skeet made sweeping, from off-the-pace moves en route to authoritative victories under jockey John McKee.

"John said after he gets settled, he just gets him in the clear and hangs on," said Bob Holthus, who trains Skeet for Fly Racing LLC.

Last year at 3, Skeet won an overnight race at Oaklawn before moving to turf and winning five grass sprints, including the $50,000 Taylor's Special. During those turf starts, Skeet earned at least three triple-digit Beyers, and he also defeated the eventual Breeders' Cup sprint winner, Cajun Beat.

But, it seems like Skeet has become an even better horse since then.

"Maturity is the only thing I can attribute it to," said Holthus. "And he likes the surface. I'm not sure he'd run on all dirt tracks that way, but he does like this surface. He trains here all winter. It's a fast track and he seems to get over it good."

As for his best surface, dirt or turf, the jury is still out.

"We'll have to wait until we get him back on turf," said Holthus. "I'll tell you Derby Day."

Holthus said the Grade 3, $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on April 30 is a post-Oaklawn goal for Skeet. The race is held the day before the Kentucky Derby.

Jones barn stocked with filly talent

Last meet, trainer Larry Jones's strength at Oaklawn was his fillies, and this meet it seems to be the same. He won the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy last year with Ruby's Reception, and has a candidate for the race this year in Island Sand.

"We're heavy on young fillies," said Jones, who will start Flaming Dixie, a 3-year-old filly, in the featured ninth race Thursday.

Flaming Dixie should go favored in the entry-level allowance at six furlongs. Jones believes she, as well as some of his other young fillies racing at the meet, like Brigette's Dream and Miss Elsie, have the potential to develop into stakes horses.

Miss Elsie has won both of her career starts, and in her last out won a six-furlong allowance in 1:10.40. Flaming Dixie finished three-quarters of a length back in second, and the Beyer Figure of 84 she earned is the highest last-race number in the field Thursday.

Flaming Dixie, who is a front-runner, will break from the rail under apprentice Justin Shepherd.

"She ran awfully well against Miss Elsie the other day, and we're hoping we can get that same trip back," Jones said of Flaming Dixie. "The rail is okay with us. I think it's winning at a pretty good clip, and she does the gate work well, so we should be okay there."

Jones tends to carry many fillies in his 20-horse stable in part because some of his clients prefer to purchase fillies at auction. "Some feel it can be a little safer market," he said. "In case something does go wrong, you've got some residual value" as a broodmare.

Jones has had success with young horses, in part because he breaks many of his horses. "We've had them a good while, and that helps me a lot," he said.

Jones, who regularly races in Kentucky and Iowa, plans to branch out later this year and send a string to Arlington Park.

Chief rivals to Flaming Dixie include First Approval, who was an impressive debut winner last out for her trainer, Jinks Fires.

Jones has another filly entered in Thursday. Powered Wig, a 4-year-old who was second in her last start, is among the leading contenders in the second race. She will be ridden by Shepherd in the maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles.

Day on Tiger Hunt, Shadowland

Pat Day will ride Tiger Hunt in the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby on April 3 and Shadowland in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 10, said Ralph Nicks, who trains both colts for Team Valor.

Tiger Hunt worked seven furlongs in company in 1:27.60 on Tuesday in preparation for the Illinois Derby. The race will be his first since he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"He got something out of it," said Nicks. "He needed a good work, and he got that. Basically, he went 12 and change every eighth."

Tiger Hunt worked in blinkers, and under assistant trainer Shannon Purcell.

* Saint Liam, who is at Oaklawn preparing for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 3, worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:13 on Tuesday.