01/21/2005 12:00AM

Island Sand gears up for '05

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Greater Good works a bullet on Thursday under John McKee, covering three furlongs in 34.80 seconds.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Island Sand, who was just beginning her ascent as the Oaklawn meet ended last year, comes into this season a Grade 1 winner and arguably the top local hope for the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 9.

Island Sand will likely make her 4-year-old debut in the $50,000 Pippin at Oaklawn on Feb. 20. She is also a candidate for the Grade 3, $175,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup on March 12, which is the final local prep for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom.

The last time Island Sand was seen at Oaklawn, she was a fast-closing second in last year's Grade 2 Fantasy. Following that race she finished a troubled second in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, then won the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park.

Her stellar year was cut short less than a month later, however, when she was found to have an entrapped epiglottis after her third-place finish in the Grade 1 Mother Goose.

She had throat surgery, but it was not effective, and a second throat surgery put Island Sand on the sidelines for much of the rest of 2004, said Larry Jones, her trainer.

Things have progressed well since then. Island Sand began to look like her old self in her last start, when she faced older rivals for the first time in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap in November.

"She wound up running fifth with a real wide trip," said Jones. "She ran a good race. She fit right in with those horses like Lady Tak, especially considering we had such a wide trip. So, it showed us we're back in the game, and we're back at her level."

Adding to Jones's delight is the manner in which Island Sand has been working at Oaklawn, where she has been settled in since Dec. 1. Her regular rider is Oaklawn-based Terry Thompson, who was aboard for her win in the Acorn.

"She's working well," said Jones. "Terry said she is actually working better than she ever did last year. We're hoping this will be a big year for us."

Long-term, Jones hopes Island Sand will be returning to Belmont for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Greater Good aims for Southwest

Greater Good remains on course for the $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 19 after he came out of a three-furlong work on Thursday in good order, said his trainer, Bob Holthus.

Of the three top 3-year-old colts stabled at the meet, Greater Good is the one definite for the one-mile Southwest. Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor are considered possibles. In his last start, Greater Good won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

He worked three furlongs in a bullet 34.80 seconds under regular rider John McKee on Thursday, and walked on Friday.

"He worked faster than I wanted him to, but it didn't seem to bother him," said Holthus.

Kota, a stakes-winning 3-year-old filly for Holthus, worked three furlongs in 36.40 seconds Thursday. Holthus said she is being pointed for the $50,000 Martha Washington on Feb. 21.

Pie N Burger in Sunday feature

Pie N Burger, who is closing in on $1 million in earnings, will take on a deep field of older horses in the featured eighth race Sunday. The one-mile allowance is worth $40,000 and should produce starters for the upcoming handicaps at Oaklawn.

Pie N Burger, a winner of $924,133, was second to Midway Road last out in the $60,000 Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds on Dec. 4. He is one of two uncoupled starters in the field for Cole Norman, and will be ridden by Carlos Gonzalez. Jamie Theriot will ride the other Norman trainee, Shaky Town.

The one to fear is Discreet Hero, who won back-to-back stakes in November and December, earning Beyer Figures of 109 and 107. Tim Doocy has the mount on Discreet Hero for trainer Bernie Flint.

Oaklawn notables up for awards

Charles Cella, owner of Oaklawn; Eric Jackson, the track's general manager; and Terry Wallace, Oaklawn's announcer, are all expected to travel to California to participate in Monday's Eclipse Awards ceremonies. Oaklawn and the Cella family are to receive an Eclipse Award of Merit.

John Servis also has plans to attend the Eclipse Awards. He trained Smarty Jones, a candidate for Horse of the Year and the probable 3-year-old champion. Afleet Alex, who is stabled at Oaklawn with trainer Tim Ritchey, is a finalist for champion 2-year-old, while Steve Asmussen, who has a division in Hot Springs, is a finalist for champion trainer of 2004.

* Jockey Calvin Borel won the first race of the meet to move within nine wins of 4,000.