02/18/2005 1:00AM

Island Sand starts season in Pippin

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Island Sand, winning the Acorn in June, returns Saturday for the first time since finishing fifth in the Nov. 7 Churchill Downs Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Island Sand's presence in the $50,000 Pippin Stakes on Sunday is a boon for Oaklawn Park, but bad news for her six rivals. A Grade 1 winner, Island Sand hasn't raced this year, but has a strong series of works for the 1 1/16-mile race, which will serve as one of her stepping-stones to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap.

"Island Sand is going to be awfully hard to beat," said Steve Hobby, who will send out the razor-sharp Casual Attitude. "You hate to hook a horse like her for $50,000."

, who won the Acorn last year and was second to Ashado in the Kentucky Oaks, seems to be sitting on another big season. "I'd say she's put on a good 200 pounds since last year," said Cindy Jones, assistant to her husband, trainer Larry Jones. "She's gotten taller, and she's just spread out everywhere. She's just really a beautiful, beautiful mare to look at."

Island Sand last raced Nov. 7, when she finished fifth in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, her first start against older rivals. She was wide throughout, and her race was a solid one, said Larry Jones.

Island Sand has since been pointed for the Pippin, which suits her on several levels. She likes the track; her owner, Jim Osborne, lives in Arkansas; and the race falls right on the calendar. "Between this race and the Oaklawn Breeders' Cup and the Apple Blossom, the timing is perfect for all three races," said Cindy Jones.

Island Sand, who will have Terry Thompson aboard Sunday, will be racing without blinkers for the first time.

"She's relaxing very well without them," said Cindy Jones. "We worked her out of the gates in company without them. She relaxed, let the two horses go on in front of her, and when Terry asked her to go, she just went right on up by them and away she went."

Island Sand will break from post 5 and could get a nice stalking trip behind the rail-drawn Catboat and Salzurita. The stretch threats include La Reason, winner of the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher last year, who will be making her first start since November, and Casual Attitude.

has won her last two starts, the $40,000 Lady's Secret at Remington on Dec. 5 and a Jan. 30 allowance at Oaklawn. She worked five furlongs in a bullet 59.80 seconds Feb. 13.

"My filly's doing really well," said Hobby. "We have an out over the racetrack, and Island Sand hasn't run in a while, so if we ever have a chance, I guess it would be now."