02/03/2003 12:00AM

Klesaris barn starts fast but loses four to claims

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - New York-based trainer Robert Klesaris was eager to see how his horses would fit in his first season at Oaklawn Park. The answer came quickly. Klesaris won three races from seven starters on opening weekend, and also had four runners claimed out of his 12-horse stable.

The fast start places Klesaris second in the standings, behind two-time defending leading trainer Cole Norman, who was 5-for-19 over the three-day opening weekend at Oaklawn.

"I didn't think it would start out like this," said Klesaris. "I mean, the horses are actually outrunning what I thought they would do."

Klesaris won the first race on opening day Friday with Dream Dancer ($17.40), and scored a double Saturday with Unlaced Waters ($7.60), who romped by five lengths in his first start in more than a year, and Yavapai ($5.80), who was making his first start for Klesaris.

At the request of a client, Klesaris set up a division in Hot Springs.

"One of my main owners has clients in this area, and he just wanted to send a few horses to run, so we ended up sending a few more than we were originally going to," he said.

He said he might replace some of the four horses claimed from him. Bringing fresh stock to town, Klesaris has drawn a lot of shoppers, which is nothing new at Oaklawn.

The track has a reputation for its claiming activity. On the opening weekend, there were nine claims. Last year over the same period, there were 12 claims. The year before, Oaklawn averaged four claims a day, with a total of 197 horses being claimed during the meeting.

Meet opens big

Although the Oaklawn meet was pushed back a week because of freezing temperatures, the bottom line did not suffer. During the first three days of the meet, the track drew 46,304 patrons, and $15,704,827 was wagered on Oaklawn's races, both ontrack and offtrack.

Those numbers are up from the first three days a year ago, when the meet opened as scheduled and drew 46,299, while handle was $15.1 million.

Oaklawn also set an opening-day handle record last Friday when $5.6 million was bet from all sources on the track's live races and incoming simulcasts. The old mark was $5.4 million set in 1996.

Hobby grooming Chindi

Trainer Steve Hobby is playing groom for Chindi until the horse's longtime caretaker, Abraham Del Gado, returns from Fair Grounds at the end of March.

Chindi, 9, who runs in the featured eighth race Wednesday, seems to get a kick out of having the boss cater to him.

"He's a real smart horse," said Hobby. "He knows what he can get away with. If I'm walking him, he's bucking and leaping and ornery. But if you had a little kid walking him, he'd drop his head and just go along and wouldn't bother him. He knows what's what."

Court suspended for seven days

Jon Court, who leads the Oaklawn standings with five wins after the first three days of racing, has been suspended seven calendar days from Thursday through Feb. 12, for allowing one of his mounts to impede a rival in the sixth race Saturday.

The suspension has been appealed.

Court, who is riding at Oaklawn for the first time since he won the title here in 2000, was suspended after his mount, Lucky Baldwin, drifted out in the stretch and bumped Victory Pose. The incident resulted in the disqualification of Lucky Baldwin from second to third place.

* Post for the first race Wednesday will be 1:30 p.m. Central. There is a pick six carryover of $19,553.