03/21/2002 1:00AM

Leaping Plum back, in a race he likes


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Two and a quarter lengths is all that separates Leaping Plum from a seven-year win streak coming into the $30,000 Pepsi Sprint Handicap, which will be run here again Saturday at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Formerly the Coca-Cola Sprint, the Pepsi drew a full field of 10 with two more on the also-eligible list.

Leaping Plum, the highweight at 121 pounds, has not been worse than third in this race since 1995, including four straight wins from 1995-1998. The next three years, he was second, third, and second, beaten a total of only 2 1/4 lengths. In the 2001 edition, one of the best races held here last year, Leaping Plum came up a half-length short after battling Shot of Gold head-and-head every step of the way.

Leaping Plum flexed his muscles March 10 when he romped by 9 3/4 lengths against unconditioned allowance company under Perry Compton. At 11 years of age, Leaping Plum, breaking from post 2, should be heavily favored in the Pepsi Sprint. Compton has the mount once again for trainer Joe Moss.

Leaping Plum has bankrolled more than $350,000 and has a record of 28-7-11 from 61 starts. He is 18-5-2 from 28 starts at Fonner, with more than $225,000 in earnings. Known locally as The Fonner Flash, Leaping Plum has won at least one race here every year since 1994. On Feb. 16, his streak of seven consecutive wins in the four-furlong Grasmick Handicap ended when he rallied late to be third.

Trainer Kelly Von Hemel will take his best shot at unseating Leaping Plum with four starters in the race, including a pair of ship-ins. The quartet, under different ownership, will be uncoupled in the wagering. Abbi's Choice comes in from Oaklawn Park off a third in allowance company his last outing. Rub has been going longer at Turf Paradise and should be running strongly in the late going. Count Basic has a pair of allowance wins here; and Tate's Way is fresh off a win in the Ogataul Cap March 9.

Marv Johnson will send out the coupled entry of Ty Man and Tauke.