06/22/2004 11:00PM

Island Sand rises up from surf

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Island Sand wins the Acorn Stakes and earns her trainer, Larry Jones, his first Grade 1 victory. The filly's current owner, Jim Osborne, found out she was for sale on the Internet.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Larry Jones enjoyed his finest year as a trainer in 2003 thanks largely to the success of Ruby's Reception and Don'tcountessout. But those two fillies were retired and Jones wasn't sure where his next star would come from.

Enter Jim Osborne, the Internet, and a 3-year-old filly named Island Sand. In the first six months of the year, Jones has already won his first Grade 1 stakes, and now has a filly good enough to be mentioned with the best of her division.

"We've been blessed this year," said Jones, a 23-year veteran who is well on his way to surpassing the career-best $806,085 in purse earnings he had in 2003. "Anything from here is icing. This is by far more than we bargained for. It's already been a good ride."

Back in January, Osborne, a stock trader based in Little Rock, Ark., came across a new website, EquineCommerce.com, which facilitates the buying and selling of horses. Osborne noticed the 3-year-old filly Island Sand on the list of horses for sale. Osborne was familiar with Island Sand because his friend, Richard Maynard, bred her.

Somewhat skeptical about buying a horse online from people he didn't know, Osborne eventually bought the filly directly from her owner, Mike Ryan, for $200,000. She has developed into one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country. Island Sand can continue her rise in the division on Saturday when she meets the division-leading Ashado in the Grade 1, $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park.

Island Sand finished second to Ashado in the Kentucky Oaks before coming to New York to win the Acorn, giving Osborne and Jones their first Grade 1 win. Osborne, who had not done business with Jones previously, gives him all the credit for developing Island Sand.

"Larry has done a great job," Osborne said. "We could've gone bad with this horse three or four times, and he has been on top of it every time."

Osborne bought Island Sand in mid-January, but he was persuaded by her previous connections, Ryan and trainer Tony Dutrow, to run her in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 25. He did and Island Sand won. She was then shipped to Jones at his winter base of Oaklawn Park. Jones noticed some problems with the filly when she arrived and had to stop on her.

"We had some problems with the horse that we had to get fixed before we went any further," Jones said. "She missed a lot of training."

Jones, who won the 2003 Fantasy with Ruby's Reception, brought Island Sand to the Fantasy off an 11-week layoff. That and the fact she drew post 11 were two strikes against the filly. Still, she ran a very creditable race to be second to House of Fortune.

"The outside had played bad all Oaklawn meet," Jones said. "So instantly we just knew we were up against it, and more than likely,

I was running a short horse to start with. I just had not had the opportunity to have her 100 percent ready."

In the Kentucky Oaks, Island Sand hopped at the start and was further off the pace than she had been in her career. She made a huge run to be second behind Ashado, the horse Jones pegged to win the race all week long.

When Jones learned that the Todd Pletcher-trained Ashado would miss the Acorn because of a temperature, he decided to ship in for it. Island Sand rallied from last to win.

Jones doubles as an exercise rider and tries to get on all his horses at least once a week. This summer he has split his 36-horse stable between Prairie Meadows in Iowa and Ellis Park in Kentucky, where Jones's wife, Cindy, is in charge. Following the Acorn, Jones shipped Island Sand back to Ellis Park to train. Jones calls Ellis Park "the best racing surface in the state of Kentucky bar none."

While Jones is also pointing Island Sand to the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama, he believes Island Sand's best chance to knock off Ashado may come Saturday.

"We got to at least feel like if we're able to take advantage of her, now would be the time," Jones said. "I know Pletcher doesn't ever send over a short horse, I'm not even thinking she's not fit and ready to go, I'm just hoping having had the trip over the track will help us."