04/07/2004 11:00PM

'Two Down' well rested for stakes

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - No horse has finished closer to the unbeaten Smarty Jones than Two Down Automatic, who will take on the comebacking Tiger Hunt in the $75,000 Northern Spur Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

The one-mile Northern Spur for 3-year-olds is one of two stakes on the undercard of the $1 million Arkansas Derby. Smarty Jones is the favorite for that 1 1/8-mile race, while the connections of Two Down Automatic have opted to run in the Northern Spur.

"This is where he belongs," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Two Down Automatic. "He doesn't want a mile and an eighth right now."

Two Down Automatic faced Smarty Jones in the $100,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 28, when Smarty Jones was returning from a two-month layoff. Smarty Jones won by three-quarters of a length, while Two Down Automatic put in a determined stretch run to finish second. Smarty Jones went on to win the $200,000 Rebel Stakes, while Two Down Automatic has not raced since the Southwest.

"He came out of the race very tired," said Asmussen. "I think we've given him ample time to recover, and I think this is an excellent next spot for him."

Two Down Automatic appears to have more natural speed than Tiger Hunt, and that could work to his advantage in the Southwest, which ends at the auxiliary finish line at the sixteenth pole. Two Down Automatic also has a recency edge over Tiger Hunt, who has not raced since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25.

Tiger Hunt has been training at Oaklawn since the start of the year, but his 3-year-old debut was delayed by a fever that cost him to miss a key work. His connections opted against shipping to Chicago for the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby last weekend, and they targeted either the Northern Spur or Grade 2 Lexington as a comeback race for Tiger Hunt.

He finds himself at his home track for the Northern Spur, and he worked a bullet four furlongs in 47.20 seconds in preparation for the race. Pat Day, who was aboard the colt in the Breeders' Cup, has the mount Saturday.

Tiger Hunt, trained by Ralph Nicks, won the $200,000 Cradle at River Downs last year and finished second to Eurosilver in the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland before the Breeders' Cup.

The $75,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies, also to be run Saturday, will be the stakes debut for Platinum Heights, a $2.8 million yearling purchase by Storm Cat. She is from the same mare as Grade 1 winners Chief Bearhart and Explosive Red.

Platinum Heights won her debut over seven furlongs on Feb. 6, then returned to run second in an entry-level allowance in her two-turn debut March 19. She has natural speed and her trainer, Todd Pletcher, has given the mount to Cornelio Velasquez.

Others of note in the Instant Racing include Josie G., a Bret Calhoun trainee who won the Sam Houston Oaks in her last start, and Tee's Pearl, a daughter of Lil E. Tee trained by Lynn Whiting who was a sharp allowance winner in her last start.