03/16/2002 1:00AM

Oaklawn Park: Mr Ross holds on


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Mr Ross held off a late surge by Remington Rock at the wire to defend his title successfully in the Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap by a neck before 21,836 at Oaklawn. It was another neck back in third to Big Numbers, who finished a length in front of fourth-place finisher and 3-5 favorite Crafty Shaw.

Mr Ross broke alertly and raced just off pacesetter Big Numbers through fractions of 24.49 seconds for the opening quarter, 48.24 for the half, and 1:12.44 for six furlongs. He wore down Big Numbers through the stretch under Don Pettinger, then kept Remington Rock at bay to win the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:44.13 over a track rated fast.

Crafty Shaw attended the pace down the backside, and finished an even fourth.

"With the pace as soft as it was, it was a good thing to be as close as we were," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Mr Ross for Don McNeill. Mr Ross, 7, earned $60,000 for the win, which raised his earnings to $1,070,015. Overall, he has won 17 of 40 career starts.

Mr Ross has fought quarter cracks recently, but if he is doing well, said Von Hemel, he will start next in the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 6. Last year, Mr Ross finished second in that race behind Traditionally.