02/11/2005 1:00AM

Tika's Best looks like the speed by default

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Rockport Harbor, pointed for a 2005 debut in the Rebel Stakes, works five furlongs in 1:01.60 Friday morning with assistant trainer Bobby Velez up.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Identifying the early leader in Sunday's featured ninth race at Oaklawn Park might be the key to finding the race's winner. The one-mile allowance for fillies and mares drew a host of quality stretch-runners, including leading contenders Boomboomgirl and Proudest Queen.

But finding the speed of the race takes some work. Tika's Best, who will break from the rail, seems like the best candidate to set the pace. She was a front-running winner over seven furlongs three starts ago, and with a repeat of that effort might be tough to reel in Sunday.

has raced through faster fractions than most of her rivals, and also will have the benefit of a short stretch run, as one-mile races end at the sixteenth pole at Oaklawn. She shows a nice series of half-mile works for her first start since November. Trainer Morris Nicks has given the mount to Jesus Barria.

is a logical choice. She rallied for fourth in the $40,000 Katy at Sam Houston Race Park in her last start Dec. 4, and before that race closed for second in a $40,000 stakes at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 9. Luis Quinonez has the mount for trainer Ralph Irwin.

closed from 15 lengths off the pace last out to win a money allowance in a one-mile race at Oaklawn. The track is among her favorites, as she has never finished worse than third in Hot Springs. Steve Hobby, who has won with four of his first eight starters at the meet, has given the mount to Tim Doocy.

Rockport Harbor works in 1:01.60

Rockport Harbor, winner of the Nashua and Remsen last year, worked five furlongs at Oaklawn on Friday morning in 1:01.60, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15, according to track officials. The five-furlong move was the sixth fastest of 57 at the distance at Oaklawn.

Bobby Velez, an assistant to trainer John Servis and the regular exercise rider of Rockport Harbor, was aboard for the move, which was Rockport Harbor's third drill since he resumed training in January. The colt is scheduled to make his first start of the year in the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel at Oaklawn on March 19.

Servis, who won the Rebel last year with Smarty Jones, will have his first Oaklawn starter of the meet Sunday, when Round Pond, a daughter of Awesome Again, makes her career debut in the seventh race. Jeremy Rose has the mount for Fox Hill Farms, which owns Rockport Harbor.