02/11/2004 1:00AM

Mr. Jester seeks respect


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Finally, some respect for Mr. Jester. A winner of 4 of 6 starts, he was dismissed at double digit odds in both the $1 million Delta Jackpot, which he won at 14-1 on Dec. 5, and the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile, in which he was placed first at 20-1 on Sept. 13

But the story will be different Saturday. Mr. Jester is the probable favorite for the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds.

Mr. Jester was the nation's third richest 2-year-old last year with earnings of $730,800, but despite his bankroll and record in two-turn stakes, he has mostly flown under the radar.

"Nobody gives him, or me, any respect," said Steve Wren, a Midwest-based horseman who trains Mr. Jester. "If [Wayne] Lukas or [Bob] Baffert or [Nick] Zito had this horse, he'd be in the top five Derby picks.

"He's a horse that's been first or second in each of his starts. He's beaten The Cliff's Edge. He's beaten Fire Slam."

Mr. Jester has been quietly preparing for his 3-year-old debut at Oaklawn, where later this season he is scheduled to run in the $200,000 Rebel and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Mr. Jester left Hot Springs at 6 a.m. on Wednesday to make the eight-hour van ride to New Orleans. The Risen Star has been his target since the Delta Jackpot because Wren did not want to shorten up Mr. Jester in distance to one-mile for the $100,000 Southwest later this month at Oaklawn.

"I don't want to take my horse out of his running style," he said.

Mr. Jester, who comes from off the pace, is an appealing combination of brains and brawn. And since his last start, when he won the Jackpot over eventual Grade 3 Lecomte winner Fire Slam, he has developed even more.

"Physically, he appears to have grown up a lot," said Wren. "He's filled out. He's muscled up. Last year, I described him as a 3-year-old in a 2-year-old's body. Now I'd say he's a 4-year-old in a 3-year-old's body.

"He doesn't look like he just turned 3. He's a grand-looking horse. He's a man and he knows he's the man. He's very intelligent."

And composed. Mr. Jester has handled shipping well, running at Louisiana Downs, where he won his debut and the $50,000 Pioneer; Turfway Park, where he finished second by a nose in the Kentucky Cup but was placed first following the disqualification of Pomeroy; and at Delta.

"I was real impressed with his race at Turfway," said Wren. "It looked like he was done at the quarter pole for whatever reason and he quit running. But then all of a sudden inside the eighth pole he came back running and made up a lot of ground on some nice horses."

In that field was The Cliff's Edge, who finished third and went on to win the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Mr. Jester races for Kaaren Biggs, whose late husband, Hays Biggs, named Mr. Jester for his high school principal. All those involved with the Silver Deputy colt are excited about his future.

"We haven't tapped his potential," Wren said. "I think this colt won't do anything but get better. He's been a lot of fun to be around, and we hope to continue to have a lot of fun with him."

Roman Chapa has the mount Saturday.

Proper Prado stays home

The fact trainer Bob Holthus was prepared to ship Proper Prado to New Orleans for the Risen Star if an optional claimer for the colt did not go at Oaklawn says a lot about Proper Prado's chances in the ninth race Friday.

A field of six ended up going in the 1 1/16-mile race, including Level Playingfield and Cryptograph, who each won divisions of a split entry-level allowance opening day at Oaklawn.

Proper Prado has not raced since finishing third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 29.

"He ran a good race," said Holthus. "He was kind of erratic down the stretch. I think if he would have run straight, he would have been second.

"Although he's had nine starts, he's still not a seasoned performer."

Holthus said Proper Prado was looking around during the race, and is really still learning to race. He put blinkers on the colt two starts ago, and in his first start with the equipment he won an entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs. Proper Prado then ran third in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

"He's developed some since last year," said Holthus, who is pointing Proper Prado for the Rebel.

John McKee has the mount.