02/07/2008 1:00AM

Prom Shoes looks sharp for Essex


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Prom Shoes appears to be blossoming for Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park. He comes into the 1 1/16-mile race off the best Beyer Speed Figure of his career, and since putting up the number, he has worked a bullet half-mile.

"He's training as good as he ever has, maybe better," said Jinks Fires, who trains Prom Shoes for Patricia Blass.

Prom Shoes is part of an 11-horse Essex field that also includes defending champ Jonesboro, multiple stakes winner Gouldings Green, and south Florida shipper Finance Minister. Silver Lord, another top contender, is cross-entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds.

Prom Shoes faced Silver Lord last out, running second to him in the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap on Jan. 12. Prom Shoes closed from 14 lengths back that day, finishing two lengths behind the front-running winner and earning a Beyer of 100.

"He ran great," Fires said. "We got a little too far back the first part of the race and he had to make up so much ground."

Prom Shoes has good reason to move forward Saturday. The Louisiana Handicap was his first start following a two-month freshening, and he had to ship from Oaklawn to New Orleans. For the Essex, the horse gets to run over his home track, where he worked a bullet half-mile in 47.20 seconds Feb. 4. The move was the quickest of 32 at the distance, and it indicated he could be sitting on his first stakes win. Last year he finished second by a nose to Sightseeing in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont. Ricky Frazier has the mount in the Essex.

Finance Minister is moving back to the main track Saturday after finishing off the board in a turf allowance last out at Gulfstream Park.

"We ran into a fast pace and we were too on top of the pace, and that's why it didn't work out too good for us that day," said Juan Arias, a former jockey who trains Finance Minister. "But he came out of it good, and now he's back on dirt."

The last two times Finance Minister ran on the main track he was third in the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Jr. and won the $35,000 Pass the Line, both at Calder. He will be ridden by Dylan Williams.

Jonesboro is making his first start since Dec. 7, when he successfully defended his title in the $75,000 Sams Town at Delta Downs. Jamie Theriot has the mount for trainer Randy Morse.