03/15/2004 1:00AM

Rebel favorites get loose for race


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Two of the top contenders for this Saturday's $200,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Smarty Jones and Mr. Jester, turned in different kinds of works last Saturday.

The Rebel is the first leg of the $5 million Centennial Bonus series, and there were eight probables as of Monday. Any horse who wins the Rebel, the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 10, and the Kentucky Derby would receive a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn.

Smarty Jones could go favored in the Rebel, which is run at 1 1/16 miles. He is perfect in four career starts and furthered his cause last Saturday, when he effortlessly worked five furlongs in a bullet 58.60 seconds under jockey Willie Martinez. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.60.

The move was Smarty Jones's lone workout since his win in the $100,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 28.

"I wanted to put a little maintenance in him, and see where he's at," said John Servis, who trains Smarty Jones for Someday Farm. "He did it pretty easy."

Smarty Jones went into the work willingly and maintained his energy level throughout while working on his own. He came out of the drill in good order and was bright-eyed and playfully nipping at hotwalkers passing his stall Sunday.

Servis is taking his time building up Smarty Jones. His goal is to keep Smarty Jones improving and moving forward from race to race.

"That's the game plan," said Servis. "He's only run four times."

Like Smarty Jones, Mr. Jester worked shortly after the renovation break. He breezed four furlongs in a moderate 51.80 seconds on his own and was ridden by Loren Dancer, assistant to trainer Steve Wren.

The move was Mr. Jester's third work since his troubled second-place finish in the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15.

"I just wanted him to break off slow and finish up strong," said Wren. "That's what he did."

Following the work, Mr. Jester seemed to have a lot of pent-up energy. He left the track full of himself and looked good Sunday.

"It was an easy work," said Dancer. "He came off the track wanting more."

Kent Desormeaux will ride Mr. Jester for the first time Saturday in the Rebel, and Stewart Elliott has the mount on Smarty Jones. Other probables are Purge, to be ridden by John Velazquez; Pro Prado, John McKee; Cryptograph, Don Pettinger; Gran Prospect, Craig Perret; Maisie's Son, Terry Thompson; and Archie B., Carlos Marquez Jr.

Purge was scheduled to fly to Hot Springs from his south Florida base Tuesday. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Purge will be making his two-turn debut in the Rebel, having won at six furlongs in both his starts.

Weekend winners eye Million Dollar Saturday

Golden Sonata, winner of the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup on Saturday, and Sonic West, who took the Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap on Sunday, could both make their next start at Oaklawn on April 3.

That is the date of Million Dollar Saturday, which features the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. The races begin the annual Racing Festival of the South, during which at least one stakes a day will be run at Oaklawn through the close of the meet, April 10.

Golden Sonata is being considered for the Apple Blossom, said her trainer, Morris Nicks.

"We're leaning that way if we don't breed her," he said. "She's booked to A.P. Indy. We're going to watch the filly a few days and decide."

Earlier this year, Golden Sonata won the $60,000 Truly Bound at Fair Grounds.

Sonic West picked up his fourth stakes win in the Razorback. He could return in the Oaklawn Handicap.

"We have to think about it now," said Tom Van Berg, who trains Sonic West. "We're here and he likes this track."

Saint Liam, who is pointing for the Oaklawn, worked a half-mile in 47.60 seconds Monday. Now based at Oaklawn, he was second last out in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.

Turco tries to stay hot at Oaklawn

Trainer Chuck Turco, who won the 1995 Arkansas Derby with Dazzling Falls, has been on a roll the past two weeks, winning with four of his last seven starters. He has a chance to add to that total Wednesday in the fifth race with War Diamond.

Among the recent Turco winners have been Campaigner, who paid $34 when he won a $20,000 claiming race last Wednesday. Before the Oaklawn meet, Turco wintered his horses in Louisiana.

"I moved to a training center in Louisiana, and we came in fitter than we usually are," he said. "The horses did real good out there."

Turco will race at Louisiana Downs after Oaklawn, and will keep horses at the track and at the training center in Louisiana. He is positioning his 20-horse stable to grow with the slots-enhanced purses at Louisiana Downs.

As for the current meet, Turco still has bullets to fire at Oaklawn.

"My best maidens haven't run yet," he said.

* Roman Chapa, who is in his first season at Oaklawn, won five races Saturday.