02/14/2002 12:00AM

A plum opportunity at age 11


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Leaping Plum owns three track records, has been favored in 33 of 64 starts, and on Saturday will attempt to extend what most likely is a world record when he seeks to win the Grasmick Handicap at Fonner Park for the eighth straight year.

"No pressures. If he doesn't win, we're more than happy with what he's done," said trainer Joe Moss during the entry draw Thursday. "We've won seven straight - it won't last forever."

An 11-year-old son of Lightning Leap out of the Dr. Blum mare Velvet Plum, Leaping Plum has a record of 27-7-10 from 59 starts and earnings of nearly $350,000. He has faced all comers during his career, including Quarter Horses, and is 2-2-1 from an additional five starts going 870 yards.

While dominating the Grasmick, Leaping Plum has become a fan favorite at Fonner, with a local record of 16-5-1 from 26 starts.

Besides his Grasmick streak, he has won the Sprint Handicap (now the Pepsi Sprint) consecutively from 1995-1998; the Tondi-Budweiser Handicap in 1995 and 1998; and the now-discontinued Eagles Handicap in 1996.

He has track records for 4 1/2 furlongs (50 seconds), which he set in the 1995 Speed Handicap at Lincoln; four furlongs (44.20), set here in the 1996 Grasmick; and 5 1/2 furlongs at Prairie Meadows (1:02.40 in a 1997 allowance race).

One of Moss's fondest memories of Leaping Plum came at The Woodlands in 1996 against Quarter Horses. Prepping for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Handicap the following weekend, Moss entered Leaping Plum in the Show Me Handicap against Quarter Horses at 870 yards.

With his owners congregated in the paddock, the group missed most of the race while discussing plans for the following weekend. When he finally saw the field in midstretch, Leaping Plum was far back.

As Moss made the trip from the paddock to the track apron to unsaddle, somebody told him, "I think you got it." Moss thought the person was talking to somebody else and just kept walking.

"That's a real cute replay to watch. Three jumps from the wire, he comes into the picture. In another jump, he pulls even. And in another jump he's going clear," Moss recalled. "We got paid $15,000 for working in company."

The following weekend, Leaping Plum walked away with a four-length win in the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.

Having prepped with a work of three furlongs in 35.40 seconds last week, Leaping Plum will have nine rivals to deal with Saturday. He drew post 4 with Newil Wall set to ride, despite having suffered a hairline fracture above his ankle last weekend.

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