02/06/2008 12:00AM

Wheaton Home tackles easier task

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Those who believe horses are best judged by the company they keep figure to gravitate toward Wheaton Home in the featured eighth race Friday at Oaklawn Park. A $65,000 optional claimer at six furlongs, the race drew a competitive field of 10.

The quality of the race Wheaton Home exits could be what separates him from top contenders Scaramouche, a horse for the course, and Front Court and Harrow Land, who are stakes-placed. Wheaton Home's last start was in the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds on Nov.o22, in a field that included multiple stakes winners Going Wild and Orphan Brigade. Wheaton Home finished sixth, beaten three lengths by race winner Stormin Baghdad, who won the $100,000 Bonapaw at Fair Grounds in his next start.

"That was a tough race," said Wheaton Home's trainer, Jorge Lara. "He ran pretty hard."

Wheaton Home ran close to a hot pace, a half-length behind the leader in a half-mile run in 44.80 seconds and five furlongs in 56.40. The time for the six furlongs was 1:09.20. Wheaton Home could get a stalking trip Thursday behind the front-running Esperamos, who has drawn inside of him.

"I think he's better when he's stalking, when he's three or four lengths off the lead," Lara said. "That's his style. You get more when he doesn't go too fast on the front end."

Wheaton Home's company lines also includes runner-up finishes to multiple stakes winners Mystery Classic and Venomous in 2007. He will be ridden by Calvin Borel for the first time Thursday.

Scaramouche, who had a 3-for-4 record at Oaklawn last year, with wins at one turn and two, exits a key race, running third in a $40,000 optional claiming turf route at Hawthorne on Nov. 10.

Since then, the race's fourth-place finisher, Earths Vain Shadow, won a second-level allowance at Hawthorne, and fifth-place finisher Proud and Bold won a $25,000 claiming race at Oaklawn. Cliff Berry will ride Scaramouche for trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

Front Court is making his first start since running sixth in a $40,000 optional claiming sprint at Hawthorne on Nov. 9. He finished fourth lengths behind race winner Monkey Hill and runner-up Riverson, who has since won three optional claimers at Hawthorne.