07/19/2002 12:00AM

Wide-open Midwest field in Omaha


Omaha, Neb. - A competitive field has come from Chicago, Kentucky, and Iowa for Sunday's $100,000 Omaha Handicap at Horsemen's Park with any of the runners having a legitimate shot at pulling off a win.

The seven-horse field is headed by Bosselman/Gus Fonner Handicap winner Miner's Prize and Vito Corleone, a promising 3-year-old from the barn of Ray Tracy.

Miner's Prize has just one outing since his win at Fonner Park in late April, a nonthreatening fourth to Mc Mahon in the Precisionist Handicap at Prairie Meadows. He couldn't close on a speed-favoring track that day but should find plenty of pace up front to run at in here. Ken Shin will ride for trainer Forrest Kaelin from post 6. A career winner of 8 races from 43 starts with earnings of $396,848, Miner's Prize shares topweight of 125 pounds with two rivals.

Vito Corleone, although a 3-year-old, also carries 125 pounds. The weights were assigned by a sliding scale on the basis of 2002 earnings, with horses earning more than $100,000 this year carrying 125 pounds, regardless of age.

This is Vito Corleone's first race against older rivals but he appears a horse to be reckoned with. His last start was a solid fourth in the Iowa Derby, in which he forced the pace along the inside to midstretch before fading in the late stages as Easyfromthegitgo rallied for the victory. Glenn Corbett returns aboard Vito Corleone, breaking from the inside post.

Baker Road looks to be another who will be right near the early pace while also carrying 125 pounds under jockey Perry Compton. Trained by Leo Gabriel, Baker Road opened his 2002 campaign in Louisiana then shipped to Chicago in early spring and has posted a record of 2-2-2 from 8 starts this year.

Tahkodha Hills and Catniro could be the upsetters in the Omaha. Catniro, trained by Randy Morse, has been running in $40,000 claiming company at Churchill Downs but has a useful stalking style. Terry Thompson rides at 118 pounds. The pair breaks from post 2.

Tahkodha Hills also invades from Churchill where he has been facing money-won allowance company. He appears more suited to forcing the pace and will have Joe Johnson in the irons.

George Taylor, a locally based 3-year-old from the barn of Ricky Gustafson and Houston Slue, trained by Monty Luark, rounds out the field. George Taylor was a romping 10 1/4-length winner of the State Fair Derby at Lincoln and has shown a good turn of late foot. He'll get a test in class here with Dennis Collins to ride from post 3.

The one-mile race originally drew nine entrants but Cowboy Stuff, trained by Kelly Von Hemel, was declared from the race on Friday morning and Eyebrow Raiser, from the barn of Gene Brajczewski, was scratched later that morning.

The Omaha Handicap closes out the three-day festival at Omaha. It is carded as the fourth race, and post time is set for 5 p.m.

Leading up to the meet's showcase event is the $27,500 Horsemen's Park Breeders' Derby for statebred 3-year-olds. Mr Clearwater will try out the one-mile distance for the first time in this spot while seeking his 4th consecutive win against five other rivals.