03/13/2002 1:00AM

Fonner Park track report

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Leaping Plum's seven-year streak of victories in the Grasmick Handicap may have ended this year, but the 11-year-old gelding continued another streak last Sunday and gained some revenge in the process.

Facing four others, including Grasmick winner R C Mr Hay Boy, Leaping Plum romped over an open allowance field by 9 3/4 lengths as he prepped for the $30,000 Pepsi Sprint Handicap on March 23. With Perry Compton in the saddle, Leaping Plum reeled in R C Mr Hay Boy through the far turn and moved off to score a victory at this track for the ninth consecutive year.

Leaping Plum won four consecutive runnings of the Sprint Handicap when it was sponsored by Coca-Cola from 1995-1998 and will be looking to add another title this year with his sharp tune-up.

Field size has been up significantly at Fonner Park this year. Through 11 days of racing, an average of 8.83 starters have been to the gate, compared with 7.61 starters a year ago. The five-eighth-mile tracks in Nebraska are limited to 10 starters per race.

A mild winter and several new stables in the barn area have helped buoy field size. A new owner's incentive program is also in place for the state this year, although Bob Lee, president of the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said it has had little impact on field size this early in the year. Lee said the purpose of the program is to keep horses racing in state later in the year, during the Lincoln and Columbus meets.

Sponsored by the Omaha Exposition and Racing Inc., the corporate name of Horsemen's Park, which is owned by the HBPA, the program offers a bonus of $100 per start for horses who race exclusively in Nebraska during the course of the live racing season. The HBPA has been handling most of the paperwork involved in the program, and Lee said it was too early to tell what kind of response there will be.

Lee said that Horsemen's Park has allocated $500,000 toward the fund. The money comes out of net profit from Omaha Exposition and Racing Inc. through its construction account and does not involve any purse funds.