02/03/2005 1:00AM

'Rockport' takes it slow, easy


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Rockport Harbor, an undefeated colt and a top candidate for the Kentucky Derby, worked an easy five furlongs in 1:02.24 on Thursday morning at Oaklawn Park.

Rockport Harbor worked after the renovation break, and was accompanied onto the track by a pony ridden by his trainer, John Servis. Rockport Harbor worked alone under Bobby Velez, his regular exercise rider and an assistant to Servis.

Rockport Harbor's time was the sixth fastest of 53 works at the distance. The track was fast, but times were average with the bullet for five furlongs a mild 1:01.40.

Oaklawn clocker Jim Hamilton recorded Rockport Harbor's splits as 12.50 seconds for the first eighth of a mile, 24.53 for the opening quarter, 37.14 for three furlongs, 49.43 for the half-mile, and a six-furlong gallop out in 1:16.34.

Servis was pleased with the work, which was the second for Rockport Harbor since his bang-up win in the Grade 2 Remsen on Nov. 27.

"It was just maintenance, more or less, to see where we're at, how we're coming," he said. "I think we're doing well; real well. He galloped out really good again."

Servis said there is a 40 percent chance that Rockport Harbor will start in the $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 19. The race is the first of three local Kentucky Derby preps, followed by the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel on March 19 and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

"I'm not going to rush him to make it," Servis said of the Southwest. "I'm in no hurry."

Rockport Harbor came onto the track about 9:15 a.m. Central and stood for a while before backtracking to just past the sixteenth pole. He then turned around and galloped into his work. There was a loose horse while Rockport Harbor was backtracking, but he was caught and never threatened Rockport Harbor. The same situation happened last week, when a horse became loose and was caught prior to Rockport Harbor's work.

National pick four possible on Arkansas Derby Day

Oaklawn, Keeneland, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association are in talks to put together a national pick four on April 16. The wager would include the Arkansas Derby and the Toyota Blue Grass, and it would take the place of a national pick three that has been held in the past on Arkansas Derby Day.

"When the Wood [Memorial] moved, the Big 3 Pick 3 died," said Bobby Geiger, director of wagering and simulcast for Oaklawn. "[Oaklawn and Keeneland] each have a major 3-year-old prep that day, and each wanted some sort of national wager."

Geiger said the proposed pick four would also include the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup from Keeneland and the Instant Racing Breeders' Cup from Oaklawn. The races would be telecast on ESPN.

* Geiger said that during January a record $10.5 million was handled on Oaklawn's Instant Racing, the parimutuel game that plays like a slot machine. Last January, Oaklawn handled $4.5 million on Instant Racing. Geiger attributes the growth to a couple of factors, including a recent expansion of the Instant Racing room, and 50 new terminals for Instant Racing.

* A proclamation honoring the racing contributions of Keith and Marilyn Asmussen and their family, which includes former jockey Cash Asmussen and trainer Steve Asmussen, was to be read during the current session of the Texas Legislature on Thursday, according to the Texas Thoroughbred Association. Keith Asmussen owns Mountain General, who will run Saturday in the King Cotton at Oaklawn for trainer Steve Asmussen. The Asmussens operate a training center in Laredo, Texas.

* Chindi will make his first start as an 11-year-old in the second race Saturday.