08/28/2003 12:00AM

'Hombre' looks sharp

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Unbeaten 3-year-old Grand Hombre tuned up for the biggest challenge of his young career with a strong four-furlong drill Thursday morning at Monmouth Park.

Grand Hombre runs in the Grade 3, $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby on Monday at Philadelphia Park.

Grand Hombre worked four furlongs in 47.40 seconds with regular exercise rider Roberto Garcia.

"The way he worked this morning was very, very impressive," trainer Dennis Manning said.

The internal fractions told the tale: After a first quarter in 25 seconds, Grand Hombre zipped the second quarter in 22.40 in his final preparation for the Pennsylvania Derby.

Grand Hombre, facing stakes company for the first time, puts a three-race winning streak on the line. He posted a pair of sharp allowance wins at Monmouth, the last on July 25, but both times he failed to smoothly change leads.

Getting Grand Hombre to correct that flaw became Manning's top priority.

"I've been working with him since he ran last," Manning said. "We've been teaching him to switch leads at the head of the lane and go on. He seems to be responding very well. Let's hope he doesn't forget his lessons on Monday."

The major preparations complete, Manning had one request.

"Now let's have Lady Luck," he said.

Lady Luck has smiled favorably recently on Manning and his new stakes rider, Joe Bravo.

They teamed up to win the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga last Saturday with Valid Video and returned to Monmouth on Sunday to capture the Choice Stakes with Ballonenostrikes.

Manning reported that Valid Video came out the King's Bishop in good shape. He will run next in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Manning has had one Breeders' Cup runner, Snappy Landing, who finished third to Arazi in the 1991 Juvenile.

"If I ever had a shot, I got one now," Manning said regarding Valid Video. "I hope he stays healthy."

Special Judge gets class test

The $50,000 Select Stakes, the supporting stakes on Saturday, attracted 10 3-year-olds for the five-furlong turf sprint.

Special Judge steps up to face stakes company for the first time following a front-running allowance win in his turf debut.

Completing the field are Wild Bill Hiccup, Only the Best, Bishop Court Hill, My Boy Kyle, Something Smith, Uncledannysbrother, and the three-horse entry of Buzzy's Gold, Placido and Second in Command from the Linda Rice barn.