03/01/2004 1:00AM

Smarty Jones moves on to Rebel

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Smarty Jones won the first three races of his career by a combined 27 lengths, so some observers might have been surprised by his tighter three-quarter length victory in the $100,000 last Saturday at Oaklawn. But much was accomplished in the one-mile race, and his connections are looking forward to his next start, the $200,000 Rebel on March 20.

The Rebel is the first leg of an Oaklawn-sponsored bonus that will pay out $5 million to the horse who wins that race, as well as the $1 million Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby.

Smarty Jones had put on explosive shows in his three races leading up to the Southwest. He won his maiden by more than seven lengths, took the $65,000 Pennsylvania Nursery by 15, then captured his two-turn debut by five lengths when he won the $84,000 Count Fleet at Aqueduct.

The Count Fleet on Jan. 3 was his last start, and he returned from a close to two-month layoff to win the Southwest.

"He'll improve a lot off of this race," said John Servis, who trains Smarty Jones for Someday Farm. "He's going to be a lot tighter. I only had one work here that I let him finish in. This was our first step, and we're going to be ready to step up."

Smarty Jones made progress in other ways Saturday. He now has a start, and win, at Oaklawn, and was quicker away from the gate than he had been in his previous races. Smarty Jones, who broke fourth of nine, was next to last at the break in the Nursery, then stumbled at the start in the Count Fleet.

"That's the sharpest he's ever broke," Servis said of the Southwest.

Following his quick start, it looked as if Smarty Jones might go for the lead. But he was responsive to rider Stewart Elliott, and sat more than two lengths back in second on the backstretch. He waited until called upon at the quarter pole to overtake pacesetter Wildcat Shoes.

"Once he got onto the backside he settled, and we were where we wanted to be from there," said Elliott.

Servis will shoot for another 3-year-old stakes win on Saturday with Stephan's Angel in the $75,000 Honeybee. The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies is a stepping-stone to the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy.

Big plans for Pure American

Pure American, an eight-length entry-level allowance winner over odds-on favorite Gran Prospect one race after the Southwest, will likely make his next start in either the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 3, or the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 10, said his trainer, Grant Forster.

"It's taking a big step up, obviously, but he beat a nice colt," said Forster.

The Rebel is not an option because Forster wants to space Pure American's races at least four or five weeks apart. Earlier in his career, the colt finished a troubled fourth to Gradepoint, eventual winner of the Grade 3 Risen Star, in a Fair Grounds allowance Jan. 3.

After that race blinkers were added on Pure American, but Forster took them back off Saturday.

Gran Prospect came out of the race in good order and is scheduled to make his next start in the Rebel, said his trainer, Pete Vestal. The allowance was the colt's first race since his second-place finish to The Cliff's Edge in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 29.

Craig Perret rode him in the allowance, and will also ride him in the Rebel.

Tiger Hunt spikes temperature

Tiger Hunt, who is at Oaklawn working toward the Rebel, had a temperature of 103.3 degrees on Saturday and was off his feed, according to Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor, which owns Tiger Hunt.

"He wasn't coughing, but he missed one day of eating," Irwin said Monday. "His temperature today is normal. Apparently there is some bug going around. If everything goes right we can still make the Rebel, but if anything else happens, we're in trouble."

The Rebel has long been targeted as Tiger Hunt's 3-year-old debut. In his last start, he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He is trained by Ralph Nicks.

Plans vary for the 'Prados'

Trainer Bob Holthus, who ran an entry of Pro Prado and Proper Prado in the Southwest, said the colts are going their separate ways for now. Pro Prado will advance to the Rebel following his big, late-running third to Smarty Jones.

"He made up a lot of ground," said Holthus. "I liked how he finished. He was running well at the end."

As for Proper Prado, he will probably run back before the close of Oaklawn. Last year he finished third in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

"He's going to get a little vacation, and we're going to reevaluate," said Holthus.

* E J Harley led throughout to win his 12-year-old debut in a $5,000 claimer at Oaklawn on Sunday. He won his maiden in Hot Springs in 1995 and, except for two years, has raced here every meet since. E J Harley won three consecutive runnings of the Hot Springs Stakes from 1998-2000. James Lopez rode E J Harley for trainer David Vance. The win was the horse's 17th in 54 career starts. He has won 13 of those races at Oaklawn.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman