03/14/2002 12:00AM

Crafty Shaw's win streak looks safe in Razorback

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Crafty Shaw will be favored when he attempts to win his fifth straight race Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park. But don't expect trainer Pete Vestal to feel pressure because of the winning streak. He's been here before.

In 1994-95 Vestal won seven races in a row with Ide, including the Southwest and Rebel stakes here at Oaklawn. Vestal won last year's Rebel with Crafty Shaw.

In addition to Rebel victories, Ide and Crafty Shaw also share "a strong determination to win," said Vestal.

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel, which drew seven others, including millionaire and defending champ Mr Ross, is one of two stakes on the card, the other being the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup. The Razorback is the final local prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 6.

Crafty Shaw enters the Razorback off a powerful 4 3/4-length win in the Grade 3, $75,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Feb. 23. He set brisk fractions in that 1 1/16-mile race, and earned a career-best 113 Beyer Speed Figure, tops among all starters in the Razorback.

Crafty Shaw's win streak started Nov. 28 in an allowance at Turfway Park. He went on to win that track's $50,000 Prairie Bayou on the front end Dec. 15, then used off-the-pace tactics to win the $75,000 Diplomat Way Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 20, one race before his win in the Essex.

Crafty Shaw has flourished since his last start.

"I don't think he can be better than he is right now," said Vestal. "He's got all the confidence in the world, and his mental attitude is terrific. He's wanted to do more than I've wanted him to do [since the Essex]."

The Razorback field does not have a lot of speed, meaning Crafty Shaw figures to control the pace as he did in the Essex. But if the tempo turns out to be demanding, Vestal says jockey James Lopez will have options.

"If somebody wants to push Crafty Shaw early, we can take back off the pace. He's manageable," said Vestal.

Don Pettinger will ride the Donnie Von Hemel-trained Mr Ross, who has worked well for his first start since Jan. 19, when he passed the $1 million mark in earnings by winning the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.

In his previous start, Mr Ross closed out his 2001 campaign by finishing third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.