02/13/2004 12:00AM

Mr. Jester looks for another jackpot


NEW ORLEANS - at Fair Grounds.

The van ride from Oaklawn to New Orleans takes about eight hours. The hope is Mr. Jester makes it all the way to Churchill Downs.

Mr. Jester, one of about 15 horses owned by Kaaren Biggs and trained by Steve Wren at Oaklawn, is the likely favorite among seven 3-year-olds entered in the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star. Nightlifeatbigblue was cross-entered in a Saturday allowance, while Assault Commander and Oneverycoolcat look overmatched. The others are Gradepoint, who makes his stakes debut; Polish Rifle, fifth in the Lecomte Stakes; and Shiloh Bound, undefeated in three starts.

Mr. Jester hasn't raced since he won the $1 million Delta Jackpot by three-quarters of a length over Fire Slam, winner of the Lecomte here. Mr. Jester also won the Pioneer at Louisiana Downs, and was placed first after finishing second by a nose in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile.

Plans call for Mr. Jester to move from the Risen Star on to the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, and then into the Triple Crown if the colt is good enough. The long-range campaign has Wren thinking beyond Sunday.

"He's breezed a few times," Wren said. "He went seven-eighths of a mile, and we put a stiff five-eighths into him. I haven't hammered on him, but he should be fit enough, unless he catches a tiring track. This isn't his ultimate goal. I want to have him set up for his next two starts."

Mr. Jester shipped here Wednesday and looks spectacular. He is tall, muscular, and alert, with a radiant coat. Roman Chapa rides, and should keep Mr. Jester fairly close to a moderate pace from post 2.

Shiloh Bound probably will lead early, though Nightlifeatbigblue has speed if his connections opt for this much tougher spot. No horse yet has outfinished Shiloh Bound, who won the Black Gold Handicap by a half-length in his last start.

Polish Rifle was the even-money favorite in the Lecomte but struggled home fifth.

"I think he trains way too good to believe that was as well as he can run," trainer Steve Asmusssen said.

Gradepoint, an A.P. Indy colt with two straight wins, will race from far behind, and trainer Neil Howard concedes his colt is at the mercy of pace. But Howard also said Gradepoint has trained well on wet tracks, and his chances increase in mud. Rain is forecast here through Saturday night, but Sunday's forecast calls for a partly cloudy day.