04/04/2002 1:00AM

Racing's loss is police force's gain


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Ernie the King never feared pounding out a day's work in his 131-race career. At age 9, he will start pounding the pavement in his new job as police horse for the Massachusetts State Police Mounted Unit.

Ernie the King's new life started this week. His athletic life ended on a positive note when he won his final race, last Saturday at Suffolk Downs, paying $41.60.

"We've been hoping to get him in the unit for a couple weeks and his win almost made his owner change his mind," said Sgt. Steve Heinz of the state's racetrack troop assigned to Suffolk Downs. "Gregory Rose, one of his owners, was finally convinced to send him to us because we're having a shortage and we need good horses. I was watching the race just hoping he gets around there safely, and then he goes and wins it. Fortunately, Mr. Rose decided to let him go out on top and retire a champion."

Ernie the King will get a few weeks to run in a field at the state's main farm in Acton, Mass., before going into training where he gradually will be taught how to work in public situations.

"His owners say he was a great horse in the barn," said Heinz, a former trainer and rider in the mounted unit. "That's usually the thing that tells how he'll handle it. Once he starts training, we'll give him distractions like setting off firecrackers at the far end of the indoor ring or sending him through cones or tires or even roadside flares. The whole time you try to get closer to him and pat him and let him know it's all right. Hopefully, he'll head to a state park and spend his time patrolling the woods someplace."

Speedy Jini's Jet workout

After his five-furlong work last Saturday in an impressive 57.40 seconds, there can be little doubt that Jini's Jet is ready for his 4-year-old debut in Saturday's $30,000 Rise Jim Stakes

"We were expecting a good work, but we didn't expect it to be that fast," said trainer Karl Grusmark. "The time had something to do with the quick track that morning, but it was still a good work and he did it all on his own. He wasn't being urged."

The Krystyna Stable and Anthony Spadea have campaigned Jini's Jet, a son of A.P Jet, to eight wins including a sweep of the Massachusetts Derby and Massachusetts Breeders' Championship last December. He also was second in a restricted stakes in New York last fall. Picking up where he left off in 2001 could make him one of the greatest Mass.-breds since Rise Jim's heyday in the early 1980's.

"It might be a hair early to say he's one of the greatest," said Grusmark. "The next two or three starts should help us find out. I know he's done exactly what we wanted including running well with older horses last year. He's bigger and stronger and faster now. We expect to be doing some traveling with him this year."

Diggin' For Fun, the defending champion in the Rise Jim, returns from nine months on the sidelines to challenge Jini's Jet. Statebred stakes winner Abit Eratic will also come off the bench.