03/25/2002 1:00AM

Fonner: Ay, here's the Rub


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Rub surged past Leaping Plum in the closing yards to win the $30,000 Pepsi Sprint Handicap by a 1 1/2 lengths on Saturday.

Ridden by Ken Shino, Rub raced in fifth place as Leaping Plum and Abbi's Choice contested the pace through fractions of 23 seconds, 46, and 1:11.60.

Leaping Plum, with Perry Compton aboard, edged clear turning for home but came up empty in the late stages of the 6 1/2-furlong race, allowing Rub to surge by in deep stretch.

Part of a four-horse entry that raced uncoupled in the wagering for trainer Kelly Von Hemel, Rub, owned by Monte Hehnke, was making his Fonner Park debut after a winter campaign at Turf Paradise. He picked up his first win of the year in the Pepsi Sprint, boosting his career earnings to $140,047. He is 10-12-11 from 57 starts.

Leaping Plum has not run worse than third in this race, formerly called the Coca-Cola Sprint, for eight consecutive years. After four straight wins, 1995-1998, Leaping Plum has been second three times and third once in the last four years.