02/19/2003 1:00AM

Colorful Tour to risk streak in Essex


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Colorful Tour has never been one to back down from a challenge. A stakes winner each season he has raced, he will be shooting for his fourth consecutive win Saturday when he takes on heavy favorite Crafty Shaw in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

"He's a very competitive horse," said Noel Hickey, who owns and trains Colorful Tour. "He's a little fighter."

Colorful Tour has compiled a career record of eight wins from 14 starts, and is the top older horse in Hickey's stable at Oaklawn. The trainer is back in Hot Springs after a long absence. One of the last times he raced here was 1995, the year the Hickey-trained Golden Gear finished third to Silver Goblin in the Essex. Golden Gear retired with earnings of $667,008.

Colorful Tour, a winner of $332,444, began his win streak on Dec. 7 in the $40,000 Demetri's Boy for 3-year-old Illinois-breds at Hawthorne Race Course. He returned at Hawthorne to defeat open company in the $40,000 Chicago Six on Jan. 1, then won an optional claimer at Oaklawn on Feb. 1.

In each of those races, Colorful Tour used stalking tactics. "He has enough speed to go anywhere you want to put him," said Hickey.

Hickey bred Colorful Tour and named him for his sire, Tour d'Or, as well as the colt's coat, which is chestnut speckled with white hairs.

"He's very colorful to look at," said Hickey.

Colorful Tour is out of For You and Me, a chestnut who was a stakes winner of 10 races and $161,094. She is also the dam of Woo and Me, a stakes winner of six races and $94,110.

Luis Quinonez, who was aboard Colorful Tour for his win at Oaklawn, has the return call in the Essex.

Crafty Shaw works for Essex

Crafty Shaw worked three furlongs in 36.60 seconds on Tuesday in his final prep for the Essex, which he won last year. He will start as the 120-pound highweight in the 1 1/16-mile race.

"It's all systems go," said Pete Vestal, who trains Crafty Shaw for Charles Cella, president of Oaklawn.

Crafty Shaw won his comeback from a more than two-month layoff in a $60,000 optional claimer on Feb. 8. Before that race, he had finished second, beaten a head by Lido Palace, in the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.

The track for the Essex could be wet. Forecasters are calling for thunderstorms Friday and showers Saturday.

One Fine Shweetie makes comeback

One Fine Shweetie, winner of the $67,000 Bob Bryant for Iowa-breds last May at Prairie Meadows, has been working sharply for her first start since June, which will come Friday in a two-other-than allowance for fillies and mares. The purse is $32,000.

One Fine Shweetie faces eight others in the six-furlong race, including My Meow, an eight-time winner who beat $30,000 claimers last out in her first start since Nov. 7, and E T Phone Laurua, who is making her first start for trainer Lynn Whiting.

Don Von Hemel trains One Fine Shweetie, and has given the mount to Greta Kuntzweiler.

* E J Harley, who won three consecutive runnings of the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn, in 1998, 1999, and 2000, will make his 11-year-old debut in the seventh race Friday. He faces 11 others in a $5,000 claiming race, which carries a purse of $7,500. Trainer David Vance has given the mount to James Lopez.

* Oaklawn had the largest ontrack attendance in America last Saturday, with a crowd of 20,603, and again on Monday, with a meet-high crowd of 23,253. Attendance for the four days Friday-Monday was 61,818.