01/07/2004 1:00AM

Oaklawn bonus a successful lure


Oaklawn decided to celebrate its 100th anniversary by offering a $5 million bonus to the horse who can sweep its Rebel Stakes, and Arkansas Derby in addition to the Kentucky Derby, and the move has made the track's stakes program a target for such promising 3-year-olds as The Cliff's Edge, Smarty Jones, and Tiger Hunt.

Mr. Jester, who won the $1 million Delta Jackpot in his last start Dec. 5, is among the locally based colts already penciled in for the $200,000 Rebel, which will begin the bonus series when it is run March 20. Other top 3-year-olds on the grounds include Wildcat Shoes, winner of the $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds in his last start, and Proper Prado and Pro Prado, both of whom are trained by Bob Holthus.

The bonus series will continue with the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, which has been doubled in value to $1 million for its April 10 running, and the Kentucky Derby May 1.

There are more than 900 horses already training at Oaklawn, which will not open for live racing until Jan. 23. New trainers with horses on the grounds include Ralph Nicks, a former assistant to Bill Mott who is now working as a private trainer for Team Valor; Tim Ritchey, who finished fourth in the standings last meet at Delaware Park; and another East Coast trainer, Carlos Paez.

New jockeys set to compete include John McKee, who is expected to team with longtime Oaklawn trainer Bob Holthus; Felix Ortiz, who is from New Jersey; Mark Johnston; and Roman Chapa. Among the returning jockeys expected are defending leading rider Jamie Theriot, Terry Thompson, James Lopez, Carlos Marquez, and Cindy Noll.

Oaklawn will race 55 days through April 10.