03/26/2005 12:00AM

Rockport Harbor stops training due to ailing foot

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Rockport Harbor missed training on Friday after his right hind foot flared up again, prompting trainer John Servis to fly in noted blacksmith Ian McKinlay from New York to do some corrective work on the hoof. Saturday, Servis said Rockport Harbor remained on course for the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

"I feel we've got it nipped in the bud," said Servis.

Rockport Harbor suffered a severe laceration to his right hind foot in the Grade 2 Remsen in November when he was stepped on by a rival, and the gash extended from the bottom of his pastern through the bulb, or heel, of the foot. Part of the old injury site was found to be moving independent of the rest of the foot on Thursday.

"He had an opening in the hoof from the old injury," said Servis. "It wasn't a quarter crack. What happened was when he would step down, the hoof would shift."

McKinlay pared out a portion of the foot, then wired it so the old injured portion would be in unison with the rest of the foot, giving consistency to Rockport Harbor's step. McKinlay will return later this week to seal, or patch, the area. Servis said Rockport Harbor jogged on Saturday, and is scheduled to resume more serious training on Monday. Oaklawn was closed for training on Sunday in observance of Easter.

McKinlay is one of the most respected blacksmiths in racing, and his success stories include work on Touch Gold before he won the Belmont Stakes over Silver Charm. He also worked on Roman Ruler's foot earlier this year.

Rockport Harbor, who is a top Kentucky Derby hopeful, was a troubled second in the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 19. He is considered the early favorite for the Arkansas Derby. He races for Fox Hill Farms.