02/15/2008 1:00AM

Two promising 3-year-olds make stakes debut

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Denis of Cork and Sacred Journey are a pair of sharp 3-year-olds who will be out to establish some credentials on Monday when each makes his stakes debut in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park.

"We're putting a toe in the water, and we'll see if we can put a foot in it," said David Carroll, who trains the undefeated Denis of Cork.

Denis of Cork has impressed in both of his starts. He won his maiden at seven furlongs at Churchill Downs in November, covering the distance in 1:22.40 for a Beyer Speed Figure of 83. Denis of Cork then moved to two turns in his most recent start, Jan.o19, and won a first-level allowance at Fair Grounds by a head. He rallied in the slop, and earned a Beyer Figure of 82.

"His allowance race was a very gutsy performance on a track he did not like," Carroll said, "and the horse he beat, Unbridled Vicar, came back and ran a very nice race in the Risen Star."

Unbridled Vicar was fourth to Pyro in the Grade 3, $300,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds last Saturday. The Southwest became the spot for Denis of Cork's stakes debut because Carroll said the spacing from the allowance worked well for the colt, who arrived here from Fair Grounds on Thursday.

"We felt he got a late start - he didn't run until Nov. 24 - and he's a big, leggy individual, so the timing is good for him," said Carroll.

Robby Albarado will ride Denis of Cork for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr.

Sacred Journey, a $325,000 yearling purchase at Fasig-Tipton, comes into the Southwest off a pair of flashy, wire-to-wire sprint wins at Fair Grounds. He won his maiden in his second start Dec. 9, when he drew out to an eight-length win at six furlongs. Sacred Journey then dominated first-level allowance rivals at the same distance Jan. 4, earning a career-best Beyer of 85. He will be making his two-turn debut in the Southwest.

"He's a very quick horse," said Dallas Stewart, who trains Sacred Journey. "He'll probably be close to the lead if not on the lead, I would think."

Stewart said he liked the one-mile distance for Sacred Journey's first start at two turns, one of the reasons he has shipped in from Fair Grounds for the Southwest.

"We're just trying to progressively stretch him out," said Stewart. "You don't ever know until you run them, but we've been working him longer and he's got good stamina, and he has a very nice pedigree - so we're hoping. We're going to find out a little bit more about him on Monday."

Sacred Journey is a son of Unbridled's Song, and is a half-brother to Be Like Mike, a stakes winner of $174,202. Sacred Journey races for Thomas Vanderhyde and Fox Hill Farms, which purchased a 50 percent interest in the horse following his allowance win Jan. 4. Julien Leparoux has the mount in the Southwest

Oaklawn stakes coordinator Craig Lytel was expecting a field of 11 for the Southwest as of Friday. Other probables are Gangbuster, He's Eze, Isabull, Liberty Bull, Riley Tucker, Royal Hudson, Sierra Sunset, Silver Edition, and Turf War.

Riley Tucker was flying in from his Florida base on Friday, said his trainer, Bill Mott. He said Kent Desormeaux has the mount. In his last start, Riley Tucker was second by a head in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 1.

Top 3-year-olds work Friday

Some of the best 3-year-olds on the grounds were out for works Friday, led by Pure Clan. The undefeated winner of the Grade 2 Golden Rod, she drilled a half-mile in 48.60 seconds for trainer Bob Holthus, who is pointing her for the Grade 3, $100,000 Honeybee here March 16.

Golden Yank had his second work back since finishing third in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot, breezing a half-mile in 50.60 seconds. Trainer Gary Thomas said the horse is a candidate for the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn March 15.

Trainer Don Von Hemel has targeted the $50,000 Mountain Valley here Feb. 23 as the season debut for Sebastian County, who went five furlongs in 1:01.