02/07/2002 12:00AM

Leaping Plum the buzz as 40-day meet opens


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Plenty of snow remains from the 12 inches that fell in the area last week, but it hasn't slowed activity in the barn area at Fonner Park, which opens for its 49th season of racing Saturday.

The 40-day meet runs through May 11 and is once again anchored by the $100,000 Bosselman-Gus Fonner Handicap. The Bosselman has had a six-figure purse since 1993, and annually it attracts some of the better older handicap horses in the Midwest.

The Bosselman will be run April 27, but the most intriguing race of the meet could easily come Feb. 16 when Leaping Plum is expected to go for an eighth straight victory in the half-mile Grasmick Handicap.

Now 11, Leaping Plum began the streak back in 1995. It is believed to be the longest streak by any horse in a stakes race run annually. Trained by Joe Moss for owners Clyde Woods and Paul Miskimins, Leaping Plum holds the track and stakes record of 44.20 seconds, a mark that has stood since 1996.

Also making news this meet is 13-year-old Skunktail, who has been granted special permission by the Nebraska State Racing Commission to continue racing beyond the usual mandatory retirement age of 12 in the state.

Skunktail, owned and trained by Stanley Mankin, raced in higher-priced claiming races and money-won allowance company here and at Canterbury Park last year. He scored his most recent win in a $20,000 claiming race at Canterbury Park on July 29. He won his career debut here at Fonner Park on March 14, 1992.

The 1,200 stalls here have been oversubscribed for some time. The horse population will be boosted by some 50-100 runners coming in from Portland Meadows, which concludes its meet Sunday.

Portland Meadows trainers Tammy White, Jayson Homer, and Cliff Balcom will all have horses here this meet. White will bring 22 horses. The track could also pick up horses from trainers Steve Porter, Jim Fields, and others.

Saturday's nine-race card drew a total of 100 entries, with most of the races over-filled. The opening day feature is the $15,000 Bold Accent Handicap at a half-mile. It drew a field of 10, plus two also-eligibles.

Lady J, trained by Chuck Roush, is the highweight at 121 pounds, and will have the services of defending leading rider Perry Compton. A 6-year-old Oklahoma-bred mare, Lady J has been sprinting against starter allowance company at Sam Houston most recently.

Kenny Johnson will send out Gin N Ginger with Ken Shino to ride. A 5-year-old daughter of Go for Gin, Gin N Ginger has been off since November but has turned in a pair of good works over the local surface. She has won 10 races over the past two years going a distance of ground but could be running strongly late in the speed-laden field.