01/18/2006 12:00AM

Servis duo gives meet star power

Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
Round Pond, a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly, tours the Oaklawn track on Wednesday morning under regular rider Stewart Elliott, with trainer John Servis and a pony alongside. Rockport Harbor is being pointed for the Essex Handicap on Feb.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Round Pond, an Eclipse Award finalist who made her first career start last year at Oaklawn, is back working at this track, and on Wednesday breezed a half-mile in 50.20 seconds. Round Pond and Rockport Harbor give trainer John Servis a strong hand in stakes for fillies and mares and older horses this meet.

Both horses shipped into Oaklawn on Nov. 20, and both have progressed rapidly following layoffs. Both could make their 4-year-old debuts next month.

Round Pond is the most accomplished horse on the grounds. She won last year's Grade 1 Acorn and is a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly.

She worked after the renovation break, and galloped out strongly, going five furlongs in 1:03. She worked under regular rider Stewart Elliott, who is based at Oaklawn.

"She is coming along faster than I expected, so there's a possibility she might run in February," said Servis.

Round Pond's meet objective is the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom on April 8. Servis is also eyeing the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup on March 11.

Round Pond finished a troubled second in her debut here last year. She won her maiden here as well as the $75,000 Honeybee and the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy.

Round Pound raced next at Belmont Park, and overcame stretch traffic in the Acorn to jet past a top-class group that included Smuggler, In the Gold, and Splendid Blended.

"She was wanting to run and everybody kept moving around her, and I couldn't really get her running," said Elliott. "We still had time, and then when she got outside she just took off.

"She's just got a lot of talent."

Said Servis: "After the Acorn there was no doubt in my mind she was the best 3-year-old filly in the country. You're talking three Grade 1 winners battling it out through the stretch and she ran around them like they were in the way.

"She's just a racehorse."

Round Pond made one start after the Acorn, finishing second in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on July 16. Following the race, she was found to have a small bone chip in her left knee, and it was removed.

Rockport Harbor is being pointed for the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Feb. 11. He was a top-ranked 3-year-old last year off an undefeated season at 2, but he was unable to make the Kentucky Derby after an old injury to his right hind foot, which was stepped on in the Grade 2 Remsen, flared up. Rockport Harbor was turned out for six months in order to let the foot grow out, and "he's a happy boy right now," said Servis.

Servis said Rockport Harbor has come to hand quickly since being at Oaklawn.

Albarado seeks third title at Oaklawn

Jockey Robby Albarado is perfect when it comes to Oaklawn Park. He has won the riding title both times he has been based here, in 1996 and 1997.

Albarado, a 32-year-old native of Louisiana, will be riding here on a regular basis this season because Hurricane Katrina forced Fair Grounds, where he usually rides, to run a shortened meet this year at Louisiana Downs.

Oaklawn will overlap with that meet this weekend and Albarado will split his time between the two tracks.

He has mounts at Oaklawn on Friday and stakes engagements at the Fair Grounds meet on Saturday. He said he is looking forward to riding at Oaklawn, where he has many clients, including longtime patron Neil Howard.

"It will be quite a colony and quite a backside they're going to have," Albarado said from Louisiana Downs. "Old trainers that used to be there are coming back and a lot of trainers from Kentucky are going there. I think it will be a good meet for everyone."

The last time Albarado was in town for an extended period, he won the title with 83 wins. He then went on to win six titles at Fair Grounds, and is a perennial leading rider in Kentucky.

Instant Racing big business

Purses have been pushed to a record $275,000 a day this meet because of strong business at Oaklawn, which includes handle on Instant Racing, a parimutuel game that plays like a slot machine. Instant Racing will contribute about $2.5 million to the total purse account in 2006.

Last year, more than $150 million was handled on Instant Racing, with 240 machines in operation for most of 2005.

"Instant Racing continues to just have phenomenal results," said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn.

On account of the game's growth, Oaklawn in November began expanding its Instant Racing room on the first floor of the grandstand, moving the area closer to the paddock. Jackson said earlier this week that he hoped the project would be complete by Friday, and that appeared likely as of Wednesday. He said the room has been expanded from 6,000 to about 9,000 square feet, and the number of machines will be increased to 360.

He projects handle this year will be in the $200-million to $250-million range. In 2007, the machines could contribute $3.5 million or more to purses, said Jackson.

At a glance: Oaklawn Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 56 days, from Friday through April 15; Racing on a Friday through Sunday basis through Feb. 5, then Thursday through Sunday through Feb. 26, with a special Monday card Feb. 20. Oaklawn will then shift to a Wednesday through Sunday schedule for March through April 15.

POST TIMES: 1 p.m. Central on opening day, every Saturday, and Feb. 5 and 20; 1:30 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays; noon on Arkansas Derby Day, April 15.

ADMISSION: General, $2



ADDRESS: 2705 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, Ark., 71901

PHONE: (800)-OAKLAWN, or (501) 623-4411

INTERNET: www.oaklawn.com

2006 stakes schedule

Fri.,Jan. 20Dixieland3YO5 1/2 furlongs$50,000
Sat.,Jan. 21American BeautyF&M, 4YO & Up6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,Jan. 28Dixie Belle3YO F6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,Feb. 4King Cotton4YO & Up6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,Feb. 11Essex Handicap (G3)4YO & Up1 1/16 miles100,000
Sat.,Feb. 18PippinF&M, 4YO & Up1 1/16 miles50,000
Sun.,Feb. 19Martha Washington3YO F1 mile50,000
Mon.,Feb. 20Southwest3YO1 mile250,000
Sat.,Feb. 25Mountain Valley3YO6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,March 4Spring FeverF&M, 4YO & Up5 1/2 furlongs50,000
Sat.,March 11Azeri Breeders' Cup (G3)F&M, 4YO & Up1 1/16 miles175,000
Sun.,March 12Razorback B.C. Handicap (G3)4YO & Up1 1/16 miles150,000
Sat.,March 18Rebel (G3)3YO1 1/16 miles300,000
Sun.,March 19Hot Springs4YO & Up6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,March 25Honeybee3YO F1 1/16 miles75,000
Sat.,April 1CarouselF&M, 4YO & Up6 furlongs50,000
Sun.,April 2RainbowC&G, 3YO*6 furlongs50,000
Sun.,April 2Rainbow Miss3YO F*6 furlongs50,000
Sat.,April 8Oaklawn Handicap (G2)4YO & Up1 1/8 miles500,000
Sat.,April 8Apple Blossom Handicap (G1)F&M, 4YO & Up1 1/16 miles500,000
Sun.,April 9BayakoaF&M, 4YO & Up1 1/16 miles100,000
Wed.,April 12Fifth Season (G3)4YO & Up1 1/16 miles100,000
Thur.,April 13Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3)3YO & Up6 furlongs150,000
Fri.,April 14Fantasy (G2)3YO F1 1/16 miles250,000
Sat.,April 15Northern Spur Breeders' Cup3YO1 mile100,000
Sat.,April 15Instant Racing Breeders' Cup3YO F1 mile100,000
Sat.,April 15Arkansas Derby (G2)3YO1 1/8 miles1,000,000