02/13/2004 1:00AM

Gran Prospect blooming now


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Gran Prospect, who finished second to The Cliff's Edge in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his last start Nov. 29, is being pointed for the $200,000 Rebel at Oaklawn on March 20, said trainer Pete Vestal.

Gran Prospect is one of three Oaklawn-based 3-year-olds listed in pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby future wager. The others are Tiger Hunt, fourth last out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Mr. Jester, who is the probable favorite for the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Sunday.

Gran Prospect had been pointing for the Risen Star, but he spiked a temperature last month and missed some training, which led Vestal to change plans. Gran Prospect won his maiden in his third career start, which was his first start around two turns. From there, he finished second to Proper Prado in an entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs before his runner-up finish at 21-1 in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

"He's gotten better with every race," said Vestal. "His pedigree, particularly on his dam's side, has some serious distance relatives; some serious mile and a half, mile and five-eighths, two-mile horses over in Europe. And he's shown a real talent for distance running. The first time he ran around two turns, he won easily at Keeneland."

Gran Prospect is by Crafty Prospector and out of the Bahri mare Lilac Lane, who is a half-sister to Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Blushing K.D.

"[Gran Prospect] is a late-maturing kind of horse," said Vestal. "He's got a lot of growing to do and developing to do, mentally as well as physically. So even though he's had five starts, he's behind a lot of the other Derby candidates, at least at this point, in his physical development."

Gran Prospect races for Thomas Carey.

Grand the first winner for Nicks?

Trainer Ralph Nicks, the longtime assistant to Bill Mott who started racing horses in his own name last month, will try to earn his first win as a trainer Sunday with Grand. Grand will take on five others in a one-mile allowance worth $33,000.

Grand, who figures prominently under Terry Thompson, must beat the Cole Norman-trained Cajole.

Nicks, a private trainer for Team Valor, had a good chance to pick up his first win Wednesday with Added Edge, but Added Edge was scratched. Nicks has started four horses; his best finish was a second-place effort by Shadowland in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds.

Fletcher's young horses perform

Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher picked up a stakes win with one of his 3-year-olds last Saturday, when Old Lee captured the $125,000 Prince for Louisiana-breds at Delta Downs.

Fletcher also races There Goes Rocket, a multiple stakes winner who was to make his 3-year-old debut Saturday night in a division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Sam Houston. There Goes Rocket is a candidate to ship in for stakes at Oaklawn.

Old Lee is being pointed for the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap for 3-year-old statebreds at Fair Grounds on March 20, said Sam David, who trains Old Lee and There Goes Rocket.

* Island Sand, who won the $84,000 Busanda at Aqueduct in her last start, arrived at Oaklawn and could have her first work over the track this week, said trainer Larry Jones. Jones now trains the 3-year-old filly following her purchase by Arkansas-based owner Jim Osborne.

Jones said Island Sand, who has won her last three starts, is being pointed for the $75,000 Honeybee at Oaklawn on March 6.

* E J Harley, who is a past stakes winner at Oaklawn, will make his

12-year-old debut in the first race Sunday. In his last start, E J Harley was third in a $7,000 claimer at Churchill Downs in November. James Lopez has the mount for trainer David Vance.

* Temperatures in the 20's Friday morning forced officials to delay training until 10 a.m. Racing started as scheduled Friday.