08/10/2001 12:00AM

Is Buckets ready to step up?

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Buckets, who makes his stakes debut Sunday in the Grade 3 $300,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park, was part of trainer John Ward's "A" team of 2-year-olds last year before his development was delayed by a training accident. That "A" team included Monarchos, who won this year's Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby, and Hero's Tribute, who won the Grade 2 Peter Pan.

"Buckets is a horse that has always shown a lot of talent," said Ward. "He was in my 'A' group, and worked with Monarchos and Hero's Tribute. Right about the time of year when they all were developing, he got kicked by a horse when pulling up from a breeze. He was kicked in the stifle. It was an odd thing."

The accident held up Buckets's training for a while, and as his stablemates advanced to stakes competition, he suffered through tough trips and hooked eventual stakes winners such as Touch Tone in the maiden ranks in Kentucky.

Buckets broke through with a 10-length maiden win in his fourth career start last month, however, and Ward decided it was time to test the colt, a son of Deposit Ticket, in a stakes. "This is a turning point in his career," Ward said of the Oklahoma Derby. "He's going to tell me if he's ready to step it up to the next level."

Voladora returns in Azalea

Voladora returns from a brief vacation Sunday in the $35,000 Azalea, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares that has also drawn six others, including Runaway Magic, third in the Minnesota HBPA Stakes in her last start at Canterbury Park.

Voladora won the $200,000 WinStar Distaff in her last start at Lone Star Park on May 28. She was given some time after that race to prepare for a fall campaign, said trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

"We knew going into that race that we had four races here at Remington Park to run her in, so we planned before the race to give her some time off," said Von Hemel. "It was tougher to do after she did win, but we stuck with the plan."

Two races after the Azalea, Von Hemel will attempt to win his third Oklahoma Derby with Rockchalk Jayhawk, winner of last year's Remington Park Futurity. In his last start the colt finished second, beaten seven lengths by Royal Spy in the $125,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge.

Highland Ice retired

Highland Ice, one of the most popular horses to race in Oklahoma, has been retired. "It doesn't seem the same without him here at Remington Park," said Chuck Turco, who trained Highland Ice, an 8-year-old and winner of 16 races and $473,390, throughout his career.

Highland Ice recorded 15 wins at Remington, a track record he shares with Elegant Exxactsy. Overall, he won nine local stakes, including four consecutive runnings of the $50,000 Lazy E Sprint.