12/08/2003 1:00AM

Mr. Jester steps up

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Mr. Jester, rider Roman Chapa up, is led from the paddock before his $1 million Delta Jackpot win.

VINTON, La. - Mr. Jester's win in Friday night's $1 million Delta Jackpot made him one of this year's richest 2-year-olds. Next year, he'll get the chance to prove he's one of the country's best 3-year-olds in a series of races designed to get him to the Kentucky Derby.

Mr. Jester has career earnings of $730,800, third-highest among 2-year-olds this year, behind Breeders' Cup winners Halfbridled, a filly with earnings of $849,400, and Action This Day, who has won $817,200.

The Jackpot was Mr. Jester's third stakes win in six career starts. He was placed first in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park in September when Pomeroy was disqualified for interference, and also won the $50,000 Pioneer at Louisiana Downs in August.

He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for his win in the Jackpot - the second-richest 2-year-old race in North America, behind the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Mr. Jester ran a sharp race under jockey Roman Chapa. He settled in fifth early, started a long and sustained bid on the backstretch, and won by three-quarters of a length in 1:45.34 for the 1 1/16 miles. Fire Slam, who shipped in from Fair Grounds for trainer Al Stall Jr., was second, a neck in front of the Doug O'Neill-trained Perfect Moon, who finished well after finding his best stride too late.

"He came back really good," said Steve Wren, who trains Mr. Jester for Kaaren Biggs. "We'll probably take him to my farm for a little R and R for a few weeks. We just want to give him a little time because he's got a long spring ahead of him."

Wren would like to bring the Oaklawn Park-based Mr. Jester out at 3 in the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15. From there, Mr. Jester will be pointed for the $200,000 Rebel at Oaklawn on March 20, and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 10.

If Mr. Jester were to win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby, he would win a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn.

"That would be like icing on the cake," said Wren. "We're shooting to get to the first Saturday in May with the happiest, best horse that day."

The Jackpot was the richest career score for Wren, as well as Biggs, whose husband, Hays Biggs, died in August, a few days after Mr. Jester got his first stakes win, in the Pioneer. Among the top horses Wren has trained for the Biggses are Miss Seffens, Desert Force, and Etbauer, who won the Rebel in 1999.

Mr. Jester, like Etbauer, is by Silver Deputy. Wren believes Mr. Jester gets stamina from his dam, Future Pretense, a daughter of Fappiano who ran second in the Grade 1 Coaching Club.

"The older this horse gets, the better he's going to be," Wren said, "and the farther he goes, the better he's going to do."

Blinkers for Judiths Wild Rush

The connections of Judiths Wild Rush had a whirlwind weekend. The colt finished a troubled ninth as the 8-5 favorite in the Jackpot on Friday, then won a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion 2-year-old colt on Saturday.

In the Jackpot, Judiths Wild Rush, who has good speed, did not get into the race early. "He just never got a hold of the racetrack," said Scott Fairlie, who trains the colt. "He was spinning his wheels."

Fairlie said Judiths Wild Rush seems to be a little green, and during the Jackpot he was looking at the grandstand. To improve his focus, Judiths Wild Rush will likely add blinkers for his next start.

Judiths Wild Rush is on a short vacation on an Ontario farm now, and will resume training in January, probably at Belmont Park.

Big win for Salty Romance

Salty Romance, who won the $250,000 Delta Princess in only her third career start on Friday night, came out of the race in excellent shape, said trainer Patrick Biancone.

He does not know where Salty Romance will start next, but said he has several options between her Southern California base and Gulfstream Park. Salty Romance's ownership group, Flying Zee Stable, has ties to Florida.

"We're going to go step by step," said Biancone. "We don't want to rush her."

Salty Romance won the Delta Princess, a one-mile race for 2-year-old fillies, under a hand ride by jockey Mike Smith.

Record handle on Jackpot night

Delta handled a record $2,477,493 on its 10-race program Friday night, breaking the mark of $1.6 million set in 2002. The Delta handle was $153,104 ontrack and $2.3 million offtrack. Delta, which operates a slots casino, does not keep attendance figures for racing.