08/21/2002 11:00PM

Hills works his magic on Jeb's Wild

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Tim Hills has clearly established himself as the top grass trainer at Monmouth Park this meet, leading all trainers with 11 turf victories, but his skill on that surface really shines when he turns dirt horses, especially sprinters, into solid turf horses at longer distances.

Jeb's Wild has been one of the premier examples of Hills's specialty, as he has gone from a mediocre dirt horse at Calder last winter into a stakes runner on the turf. Saturday, Jeb's Wild will take another step forward on the grass, as the probable favorite in a field of nine 3-year-olds in the $50,000 Spend a Buck Stakes at one mile.

While Hills said his work with transforming dirt horses to the grass is sometimes trial and error, he strongly puts his stock in bloodlines. He said he especially looks for stamina on the dam side.

That was the case with Jeb's Wild, whose dam-side breeding is outstanding. Hills campaigned Jeb's Wild's dam, Jeb, to two stakes win on the grass, and Jeb is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winning grass star Mecke. Jeb is also a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Beautiful Pleasure on the main track.

Jeb's Wild, a homebred owned by Thomas Croley, ran off the board in his two main track starts at Calder in December before being laid up until the Monmouth meet. Coming back to the races on July 5 in a maiden turf race at one mile, Jeb's Wild stalked the pace and edged away for a one-half length victory at 9-1.

"I knew he would move up on the turf," Hills said. "He had grown up so much since the winter and he was training really well."

One month later, Jeb's Wild went from a maiden win to the $65,000 Lamplighter Stakes. While Hills said he was confident Jeb's Wild would run well, he also had other reasons for running the lightly raced colt.

A half-sister to Jeb's Wild, by Hennessy, was put up at the recent Ocala yearling sales in Florida by Croley, and his connections wanted some stakes-placed black type for the mare, Jeb. While it worked out well, with Jeb's Wild running second in the Lamplighter Stakes, the yearling filly was sold for $100,000, Hills said, but taken back by her owner. Hills will train her next year.

Jeb's Wild has been pointed for the Spend a Buck Stakes since running second to Entitlement by one length in the Lamplighter, and on Saturday, Hills will remove the small-cup blinkers he wore in that race. Jeb's Wild was a bit rank on the lead in the Lamplighter, and Hills said the removal of the blinkers should help him relax better and come from off the pace.

Completing the field are B K Dodger, In the Clear, Fashion Award, Just Le Facts, Lord Abounding, Moe's Mon, Numbers Man, and May Expectations.

Perkins tries for three-peat

Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. will have the opportunity to make history in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sorority for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday, as he saddles Wild Snitch in pursuit of his third consecutive Sorority victory. Since the initial running in 1956, no trainer has won the race three years in a row and Perkins is only the second trainer to win it back-to-back.

Wild Snitch, a homebred owned by New Farm, should be the favorite in the Sorority despite only having one career start. In her debut Aug. 7, Wild Snitch was in hand throughout the race under Eibar Coa and drew off easily down the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Sent off at 1-2, Wild Snitch covered five furlongs in 58.18 seconds, tying Freedom's Daughter for the fastest juvenile filly clocking of the meet for that distance.

The field for the Sorority, the final graded stakes of the meet, should be compact. The field will likely lack a stakes winner, or even a filly with more than one lifetime win. Advancing Storm, trained by Ronny Werner, should also be one of the top choices off an impressive win Aug. 7 two hours earlier than Wild Snitch.

Grand Natalie Rose, Hope for Love, and Runaway Chanel are also expected. Trainer Todd Pletcher nominated five for the race and is expected to send one.

Wilson planning a comeback

Jockey Rick Wilson, away from riding since being seriously injured in a spill at Pimlico last Oct. 12, was a visitor at the Monmouth backside Thursday morning and said he is looking to the end of September or beginning of October as a possible return date.

"I'm going to the gym trying to get fit again to ride," Wilson, 49, said. "It's just a matter of getting my legs in shape again."

Wilson suffered a fractured right femur, several broken ribs, and a fractured vertebra in the spill. At the time of his injury, Wilson had 4,778 career victories.

"I had another operation in June to put a new rod in to hold the femur together," he said. "They tell me that takes about seven months to heal completely. But my doctor told me I could go back to riding as soon as I got fit, that I couldn't hurt the leg by riding."

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