03/14/2003 1:00AM

Colorful Tour seeks fifth straight

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - With Colorful Tour, who has won his last four races, and 119-pound highweight Crafty Shaw sitting on a top effort following a tough trip last out, it will be tough to separate the top two in the Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Sunday.

The 1 1/16-mile race for older horses is the final local prep for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 5. The race drew eight, including Windward Passage and Slider, who earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start.

Colorful Tour, weighted at 118, fought his way to the wire to win the Grade 3 Essex at Oaklawn last out, when he quickened through an opening in the stretch and went on to a 1 1/2-length win. Before that race, he won a local optional claimer Feb. 1, and back-to-back stakes at Hawthorne.

As he attempts to keep his streak alive, Colorful Tour has all the confidence of Noel Hickey, his owner, breeder, and trainer.

"How many did Cigar win?" quipped Hickey.

Pete Vestal, who trains Crafty Shaw for Oaklawn president Charles Cella, also likes his horse's chances Sunday.

"If he gets position going into the first turn, he's going to be a very tough horse to beat," Vestal said. "That's been his history."

Crafty Shaw won four stakes races last year, and closed out his season with a game second-place finish in the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 29, beaten a head by Lido Palace.

He returned a winner in an optional claiming race Feb. 8, then ran into trouble in the Essex, when he finished fourth as the favorite, 3 1/4 lengths behind Colorful Tour.

"It was just a nightmare trip," said James Lopez, Crafty Shaw's regular rider.

Crafty Shaw was forced to check in the first turn when another horse came over on him, and from there kept getting shuffled back, said Lopez.

Since the race, Crafty Shaw has worked well.

Colorful Tour has also flourished since the Essex, and March 11 worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 under Luis Quinonez, who will be aboard Sunday.

"His last work was tremendous," Hickey said. "He was well in hand. He's an improving horse."

Windward Passage, an allowance winner at the meet, also won the Grade 3 Rebel here last year. Donnie Meche will ride for owner Team Valor and trainer Steve Asmussen.

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