04/04/2002 1:00AM

Fleet Renee has the right trainer to win off a layoff


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - It would be an understatement to say trainer Michael Dickinson is good with layoff horses. His reputation was forged on that premise with Da Hoss, who returned from a two-year layoff to win the 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile.

Dickinson will attempt to win another Grade 1 with a comebacker Saturday at Oaklawn Park when he sends out Fleet Renee in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap. The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares will share a program with the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, and together the races will make for the richest card of racing ever at Oaklawn.

, who was entered and then scratched from the Breeders' Cup Distaff, has not raced since Sept. 8, when she finished third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Belmont Park. Last year as a 3-year-old, she won the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park. The reason for the layoff was because she had had a busy year, said Dickinson.

Fleet Renee will be making her first start against older horses in the Apple Blossom, and Dickinson respects of the competition. "There's a lot of very classy fillies in the race," he said. "It's her first race of the season, and we don't know if she likes the track, and we under no circumstances underestimate the difficulty of the task at hand."

Mr Ross overcomes all

Mr Ross is the definition of the word resilient. The horse, who will start as the 118-pound highweight in the Oaklawn Handicap, has rebounded from a handful of setbacks throughout his career to win 17 of 40 starts and $1,070,016.

His record is a testament to his own grit; the patience of his owner and breeder Don McNeill; and shrewd judgment calls by his trainer, Donnie Von Hemel.

Mr Ross, who is 7, battled equine protozoal myelitis [EPM], a neurological disease, the summer of his 3-year-old year; hock irritations at 4; ankle aches and pains at 6; and a trio of quarter cracks over the past two months. "He hadn't had a quarter crack in his life, and he ends up with three of them," said Von Hemel. "The two on the front foot have been patched and have held very well, and we haven't had any problem at all in that foot. The hind foot, we just cut [the quarter crack] out, and we haven't had any problems with it, either."

Von Hemel said attitude is one of Mr Ross's biggest strengths, something that keeps him competing at a high level of competition year in and year out. "I think he'd run through a brick wall if you asked him to," said Von Hemel. "He's very intense as an athlete."

Mr Ross has won both of his starts this year. He passed the $1 million mark in January when he won the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park, and then last month successfully defended his title in the Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap. A win in the Oaklawn Handicap would be his biggest career win. Last year he finished second in the race to Traditionally.

Luckier year for Dollar Bill?

Is Dollar Bill due for some good luck as a 4-year-old? "Absolutely," says trainer Dallas Stewart.

Last year, Dollar Bill was notorious for having troubled trips in major stakes. But this year, Dollar Bill began his season on a better note with a neck win in a money allowance at Fair Grounds on March 8. The race was his first since finishing third in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 25, and his effort prompted Stewart to point the colt for the Oaklawn Handicap.

"I thought it was a good race because he did win; it was two turns; and he finished good the last quarter," said Stewart. "Evaluating him off of his first race back gave us enough confidence to go into this spot."

Remington Rock allergic to straw

Remington Rock, who finished second to Mr Ross in the Razorback, was pulled from consideration for the Oaklawn Handicap earlier this week because of a possible allergic reaction to his bedding, said trainer Richard Jackson. The horse was one of four Jackson-trainees that developed blisters around their muzzles when bedded with a new shipment of straw Tuesday. The load of straw, which was distributed to several trainers on the backstretch, has been sent to Iowa to be tested for chemicals, said Jackson.