02/06/2003 12:00AM

Stakes purses hit; overnights stable

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Fonner Park will enter its 50th season of racing when it begins a 38-day meet Saturday. The track's showcase event, the $100,000 Bosselman-Gus Fonner Handi-cap, will be run on April 26.

Twelve-year-old Leaping Plum, one of the most popular sprinters ever to run at the five-eighth-mile track, is back and should see action in next week's Grasmick Handicap at four furlongs. Leaping Plum's streak of seven consecutive wins in the Grasmick, dating to 1995, was halted when he finished third last year.

Purses in Fonner's first condition book were cut 14 percent from last year because of a decline in overall handle on live and simulcast wagering. But the Nebraska Horsemen's Bene-volent and Protective Association has stepped in and will supplement overnight purses back to last year's levels.

The purses of several stakes races have been cut by at least $5,000, including the opening-day Bold Accent Handicap and next week's Grasmick, both of which carry $10,000-added purses this year. The $30,000 Pepsi Sprint, for older horses, has been eliminated and replaced with the $15,000 Pepsi Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Dowd Mile, the local prep for the Bosselman, had its purse reduced from $35,000 to $30,000. The HBPA supplements will not be used to enhance stakes purses.

Perry Compton returns as the three-time defending riding champion with a total of seven Fonner titles to his credit. He is joined by regular riders Dan Beck, Jerry Carkeek, Armando Martinez, Kelly Murray, Vicki Warhol, Don Frazier, and Perry Whetstone, as well as newcomers John Casey and Duane Salvino.

David Anderson, last year's leading trainer, returns with a full stable in search of his fourth training title here. Regulars Ricky Gustafson, Don Ladd, Marv Johnson, and James Compton also have good-sized stables.

Irish Flyer heads a full field of 10 set for the four-furlong Bold Accent Handicap. Trained by Terrell Hemmer, Irish Flyer last year won the Falls Amiss Handicap at Lincoln and had back-to-back scores in the Amadevil and Bill Callihan handicaps at Columbus last year.

Flaming Night won the Islander Stakes as a maiden here a year ago and is a top contender in the Bold Accent. Madi's Magic, trained by Gustafson, is a proven speedball who should relish the half-mile distance.