01/23/2002 1:00AM

Norman has stock for stakes

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Cole Norman, who ranked as the nation's fifth winningest trainer last year, has won five titles and 688 races on the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas racing circuit since he began training in 1995.

Last year he won 33 percent of his races, including 19 stakes, while his clients swept the owner titles at Oaklawn, Louisiana Downs, and Lone Star Park.

For all his success, however, Norman has never won a stakes at Oaklawn.

It's 1-5 that will change during the 54-day meet that opens Friday.

Norman has brought the most talented barn of horses he has ever trained to Oaklawn, where last year he was top trainer with 43 wins. "I think our stable is kind of changing from having just all claimers to having allowance and stakes horses," said Norman, who has 40 horses on the grounds, and another 12 at a training center near Hot Springs.

"Last year, we didn't run in hardly any stakes at Oaklawn. This year, we have horses that I think will fit in stakes here. We've got some ammo."

Explosive Truth is among the 10 stakes winners or stakes-placed horses Norman is preparing for the new meet. Last year, the colt won two of three starts as a 2-year-old, including the $100,000 Middleground over 5 1/2 furlongs at Lone Star. He is being pointed for the $50,000 Mountain Valley over six furlongs on Saturday, with his long-term goal being the two-turn series for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn.

"I think he'll go two turns," said Norman, who trains Explosive Truth for defending owner champs K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman. "He's got that big, long stride like a two-turn horse, and his pedigree shows that he'll go two turns."

Norman's other stakes hopefuls include Tricky Storm, a two-time stakes winner pointing for the Mountain Valley; Kettle Man and Joyful Tune, who are aiming for the $50,000 King Cotton on Feb. 2; and the Grade 3-placed Southern Tour, set to make a comeback in the $50,000 American Beauty on Feb 9.

Still more stakes prospects are Royal Spy, a two-time stakes winner on turf who is expected to return from a layoff in the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf at Sam Houston on Feb. 23; Unrullah Bull, winner of the $75,000 Ark-La-Tex Handicap last year at Louisiana Downs; Dancing Dreams, who has won her last five starts, including three stakes at Louisiana Downs; and Sweet and Firm and Lady Virginia.

Despite his newfound wealth of stakes horses, Norman won't quit his day job. He built his reputation by playing the claiming game well, and it is a game he plans to play all season at Oaklawn. "One title I would like to win is claiming the most horses here," he said. Norman also wants to repeat as leading trainer. "I would love to win 50 races this season," he said, an accomplishment that would tie the Oaklawn mark set by David Vance in 1974.