05/14/2003 11:00PM

Lincoln: Leaping Plum has edge

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LINCOLN, Neb. - Leaping Plum has raced only once at Lincoln's State Fair Park but he put his name in the program permanently that day in 1995, and only one horse has come close to replacing him as the track-record holder at 4 1/2 furlongs.

And Leaping Plum will meet that horse, Mr Clearwater, and 2003 Fonner Park sprinter-of-the-year Tonight Rainbow in Saturday's $10,000 Speed Handicap.

Mr Clearwater equaled Leaping Plum's 4 1/2-furlong track mark of

50 seconds while facing allowance company here last year over a track that was lightning fast for most of the meet. The surface this year was considerably slower opening weekend, but seems to be unbiased.

Leaping Plum opened his 12-year-old campaign with his eighth win from nine starts in Fonner Park's half-mile Grasmick Handicap. Tonight Rainbow rallied to be second, three-quarters of a length behind. The two met again in the Tondi-Budweiser Handicap, with Tonight Rainbow leading throughout and Leaping Plum checking in third, 2 1/2 lengths back.

Tonight Rainbow gives Leaping Plum three pounds in the 4 1/2-furlong Speed Handicap. A pure speed horse conditioned by Boyd Caster, Tonight Rainbow can expect to engage Mr Clearwater for the lead from the break. Leaping Plum has become more of a tactical closer this year, laying just off the leaders and making his move through the turn for trainer Joe Moss.

Leaping Plum's experience and sheer determination rate him a slight edge in the race, as he guns for career victory number 32 from 70 starts and attempts to push his lifetime bankroll over the $400,000 mark.