03/31/2006 1:00AM

Round Pond ready to defend her home ground

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Round Pond is scheduled to work at Oaklawn Park on Sunday in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, when she will be defending her home turf against such invaders as Grade 1 winners Happy Ticket, Star Parade, and Hollywood Story.

The Apple Blossom is one of nine stakes worth a total of $2.8 million during Oaklawn's annual Racing Festival of the South. At least one stakes a day will be run the final week of the meet, and the festival opens with the Apple Blossom and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, which will share the card Saturday.

The festival will continue through April 15, the date of the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby, which is to be televised live on ABC.

Round Pond, who won last year's Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park, last raced at Oaklawn, winning the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup by a neck over Happy Ticket on March 11. Round Pond is 5 for 6 over the local strip, and has been pointed for the Apple Blossom since the first of the year.

"It's a race we were singling out," said John Servis, who trains Round Pond for Rick Porter. "We wanted to try to make it, and right now, all systems are go."

Happy Ticket is based at Louisiana Downs, and was scheduled to arrive here Saturday afternoon, said her trainer, Andrew Leggio.

"She'll blow out an easy half-mile Wednesday," said Leggio.

Stewart Elliott has the mount on Round Pond, and Robby Albarado will ride Happy Ticket.

Star Parade and Hollywood Story are both based in Southern California and will arrive by plane on Wednesday. Martin Pedroza has the mount on Star Parade, said trainer Darrell Vienna. Luis Quinonez, the leading rider at Oaklawn, will be aboard Hollywood Story, said her trainer, John Shirreffs.

Star Parade and Hollywood Story finished a respective first and third last out in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 11.

Spun Sugar is also considered probable for the Apple Blossom. Trainer Todd Pletcher said after her comeback win in an allowance at Gulfstream Park on March 6 that she would target the race. Spun Sugar won last year's Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

Platinum Ballet, who was third in the Azeri, is being considered for the Apple Blossom or the $100,000 Bayakoa at Oaklawn on April 9, said her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel.

Weights for the Apple Blossom were to be released late Friday.

Magnum, Purim point for Oaklawn

Magnum, runner-up to Lava Man last out in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, is being pointed for the Oaklawn Handicap. His trainer, Vienna, said Pedroza would ride.

Magnum earned a Beyer Figure of 112 in the Santa Anita Handicap, the highest last-race number among the early probables for the Oaklawn.

Another is the Oaklawn-based Purim, who won the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap last out here on March 12.

Among others that officials consider possible for the Oaklawn are Buzzards Bay, Gouldings Green, It's No Joke, and With Distinction.

The Beter Man Can retired

The Beter Man Can has been retired because of a ligament injury and is scheduled to be bred this year, her trainer, Pat Mouton, said Friday. The Beter Man Can won six stakes during her career, and was 8 for 12 overall for earnings of $383,828. She is now in Kentucky.

"I hate to walk by her stall and not see her in it," said Mouton.

Top wins by The Beter Man Can included the $100,000 Tiffany Lass at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. She also won her last three starts, among them the Louisiana Champions Day Ladies and the Lagniappe Ladies, both during the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

Mouton was hard-pressed to determine which race was her best.

"She gave us 100 percent all the time," said Mouton.

The Beter Man Can is a 4-year-old daughter of Lord Avie. She raced for her breeder, Stanley Seelig.

McDowell leads Arkansas breeders

McDowell Farm was to be honored as the 2005 breeder of the year by the Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders and Horsemen's Association during its annual awards banquet and meeting Saturday night in Hot Springs. The registered Arkansas-breds produced by McDowell had 2005 earnings of $425,289.

Lillian Gish, owned by McDowell, is the broodmare of the year, with Quote Me Later and Bold Sterling among her chief Arkansas-bred earners.

Storm and a Half, with registered Arkansas-bred progeny earnings of $561,731 in 2005, is the stallion of the year. He is a son of Storm Cat.

The horse of the year is Rememberthecowgirl, who won six races and $80,330 in 2005. She was bred by Syd Horton.

New saddling procedures for stakes

Trainers shipping in for the festival will find that the track has instituted a new saddling procedure for horses in stakes races.

Instead of being saddled in the infield, as in years past, stakes horses will be saddled in the paddock, which is inside the grandstand. They will then be led, without riders, across the track into the infield, weather permitting. From there, riders will be put up and the horses will be led onto the track for the post parade. The feedback from horsemen has been favorable, said Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson.

* Depending on field sizes, Jackson said, superfecta wagering can be added to the stakes during the festival. He said the Arkansas Racing Commission has approved the wagers.

* Mouton said multiple stakes winner Nob Hill Deelite is being pointed for the Arkansas Derby.