02/16/2005 1:00AM

Old master missing from Grasmick


Saturday's 38th edition of the Grasmick Handicap at Fonner Park will somehow seem different.

As usual, there is a defending champion expected to run: Tonight Rainbow from the barn of Boyd Caster. But the "old man" of the race, Leaping Plum, will be absent from the list of starters for the first time in 11 years.

Now a spry 14-year-old living out his retirement days on a farm near Brookings, S.D., Leaping Plum began his run in 1995 with the first of seven straight Grasmick victories.

His streak was snapped in 2002 when RC Mr Hay Boy scored an upset, but Leaping Plum came right back as a 12-year-old in 2003 and whipped his rivals for what is believed a national record eighth win in the same stakes event. He received permission from the Nebraska Racing Commission to race last year as a 13-year-old, but age had caught up to him as he finished fourth in a field of eight.

The decision to retire Leaping Plum was made shortly after his lackluster run in last year's Grasmick. He finished with a record of 29-9-12 from 66 starts and earnings of $371,584. That figure does not include his occasional forays into the ranks of Quarter Horses, where he made five starts and won twice.

Leaping Plum has earned a life of leisure at a farm operated veterinarian Dale Miskimins, a brother of co-owner Paul Miskimins, who raced him in partnership with Clyde Woods.

"He's got a companion pony, and he's living the life of Riley up there," his lifelong trainer, Joe Moss, said Wednesday morning.

* Jockey Curtis Kimes got off to a strong start on opening weekend. On Saturday, Kimes picked up four winners, including a stakes win aboard Missy Can Do in the Bold Accent Handicap. The final three races Saturday were run in heavy fog that obscured most of the race from the viewing public. The track was playing exceptionally fast as Missy Can Do missed Leaping Plum's track record by .20, covering four furlongs in 44.40 seconds.

* Saturday's nightcap gave apprentice rider Daniel Wirick his first career victory when he guided Jovial Groom to a $79.40 upset. The winner keyed a 5-9-8 trifecta worth $6,779.80 while superfecta players were feeling shortchanged. The 5-9-8-4 superfecta returned $1,949.60 from a pool of $5,131. The trifecta pool was $8,921.