03/17/2004 12:00AM

Trying to bring out Gran Prospect's talent

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Gran Prospect, who was beaten just three-quarters of a length by The Cliff's Edge last year in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, will add blinkers for the $200,000 Rebel for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Rebel will be Gran Prospect's second start as a 3-year-old. In his last out, Gran Prospect finished second, eight lengths behind Pure American, in an entry-level allowance at Oaklawn on Feb. 28. Pure American is headed for the Grade 2 Illinois Derby.

Trainer Pete Vestal said Gran Prospect did not seem to get into his comeback race early, which is one of the reasons he will be adding blinkers for the Rebel.

"We want to get him to focus a little more," he said. "He never paid a lot of attention in his races. He would look around a lot and run in spurts."

Gran Prospect is a small, late-developing colt who has held his own against some nice horses. He won his maiden in his two-turn debut at Keeneland last October, then returned to finish second to the graded-stakes-placed Proper Prado in an entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs. Gran Prospect finished his 2-year-old season by closing from sixth at 21-1 in last year's Kentucky Jockey Club.

He will be looking for his first stakes win Saturday.

"We need a good honest pace in front of us, and it looks like there's plenty of speed in there," said Vestal. "It could set up for a closer."

Vestal says he is hoping the blinkers will put Gran Prospect in the race a little earlier. Craig Perret, who has ridden Gran Prospect in his last three starts, will have the mount Saturday. Gran Prospect, a son of Crafty Prospector, races for Thomas Carey.

Eight lined up for the Rebel

The field for the Rebel, which is the first leg of a $5 million bonus series, remained at eight as of Wednesday. Others pointing for the race are Smarty Jones, Mr. Jester, Purge, Pro Prado, Cryptograph, Maisie's Son, and Archie B.

The bonus, which is sponsored by Oaklawn, rewards the winner of the Rebel, the $1 million Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. In celebration of its 100th anniversary, Oaklawn revamped its 3-year-old program this year and increased the purse of the Rebel from $125,000 to $200,000 and doubled the purse of the Arkansas Derby, from $500,000.

The changes have spurred increased interest in the 3-year-old program. A large crowd is probable Saturday, and, weather permitting, the infield will be opened for the first time this meet. The track is also giving away a Hummer H2.

Tiger Hunt works for Illinois Derby

Tiger Hunt, one of the top 3-year-olds at Oaklawn, worked six furlongs in 1:14.60 on Wednesday in preparation for his next start, which is scheduled to be the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 3.

Tiger Hunt had been pointing for the Rebel, but he spiked a temperature and was pulled from consideration. During his work Wednesday, Tiger Hunt wore blinkers and went in company with Onthedeanslist. Shannon Purcell, assistant to trainer Ralph Nicks, was aboard Tiger Hunt.

"It was his first longer work," said Nicks. "He galloped out well."

Onthedeanslist was timed in 1:14.80. Nicks noted that Onthedeanslist was second to Evening Attire in an allowance at Saratoga in his last start.

Colorful Tour, Sand Ridge return

Colorful Tour, who won the Grade 3 Essex and Razorback handicaps last year at Oaklawn, and Sand Ridge, a stakes winner of $669,659, both make a comeback in Friday's second race, a six-furlong optional claimer. Also in the field are Grade 3 winners Baileys Edge and Patton's Victory.

Colorful Tour last raced in July, finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows. A virus knocked him out of action for a while after that race, but he has trained sharply since for trainer Noel Hickey.

Tim Doocy has the mount on Colorful Tour, and Ken Shino, who is closing in on career win 2,000, has the mount on Sand Ridge. Sand Ridge last raced in August, finishing third in the $50,000 Prairie Meadows Sprint for trainer Don Von Hemel.

Shino tied a national record for wins on a card when he won eight races at Fonner Park on April 2, 2000. He had won 1,990 career races through the second race at Oaklawn on Wednesday. Shino won that race with Strike Reality.