03/19/2005 12:00AM

Greater Good runs down 'Rockport'

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Greater Good (left) runs down Rockport harbor to win the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Greater Good improved his standing among Kentucky Derby hopefuls considerably Saturday, when he ran down Rockport Harbor in the final strides to win the $250,000 at Oaklawn Park by a half-length.

With the victory, Greater Good remained perfect in four two-turn starts, all of them stakes: the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park, and the $100,000 Southwest Stakes, which was the first of the three Kentucky Derby preps at Oaklawn.

Rockport Harbor held second in the Grade 3 Rebel, 2 3/4 lengths in front of third-place finisher Baston Challenge. The remaining order of finish was Copy My Notes, Jazzy Gallop, and 3-5 favorite Afleet Alex, the No. 1 ranked colt on Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch who after the race was found to have a lung infection, according to a spokesperson for owner Cash is King Stable.

Greater Good ($11.20) broke sharply under jockey John McKee in the Rebel and surprisingly ended up on the lead going into the first turn. Rockport Harbor was crowded at the start, managed to get outside of horses soon afterward, and bounded to the lead, racing clear through an opening quarter in 24 seconds.

Greater Good, meanwhile, settled in third, while Rockport Harbor led the field by about three lengths through a half-mile in 47.20 seconds and six furlongs in 1:12.40, stalked by Afleet Alex.

Greater Good came into the stretch four wide and ran down Rockport Harbor, catching him a few strides before the wire. He covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:44.92.

"My horse gave me a big effort," said McKee, who rode the winner for trainer Bob Holthus. "He put me into the race from the start and through the stretch with both horses digging in he gave me his best."

Greater Good, who races for his breeder, Lewis Lakin, has now won five of seven starts and $436,275.

Afleet Alex was scoped after the race, and was found to have a lung infection rating a three on a scale of one to five, said J.J. Graci, a spokesperson for Cash is King. Afleet Alex will be treated with antibiotics for the next five days, then will return to the track. Graci said he remains on schedule for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

"It's just a little bump in the road," said Graci.

Graci said Afleet Alex, who is trained by Tim Ritchey, had scoped clean three days prior to the Rebel.

John Servis, who trains Rockport Harbor, was thrilled with the performance his colt put in in his first start since winning the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 27. Earlier this week, Rockport Harbor's status for the Rebel had been day-to-day because an old laceration to his right hind foot flared up. It cost him three days of training for the Rebel. Rockport Harbor also lost two days of training last month when his shoe was found to be pinching the sole of his foot in late February.

"He ran a great race and will move forward," said Servis. "We are very pleased with this colt, all the trouble and interrupted training he went through to get here. The way he held on today showed courage."

The Rebel was the first match up of the three top Kentucky Derby hopefuls based at Oaklawn, and also served as a prep for the Arkansas Derby. It had been considered one of the most anticipated races in the 101-year history of Oaklawn, and the track could not have had a better day to accommodate the crowd of 38,702, some patrons spilling into the infield. Temperatures ranged in the low seventies, and the apron was filled with a roaring crowd. Parking was filled up for blocks surrounding Oaklawn.

Handle on the 11-race card was $7,594,238.