04/08/2003 11:00PM

Back Street Gal responds to the test

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PORTLAND, Ore. - It's four in a row and counting for Back Street Gal, who kept her unblemished record intact with a half-length score over a stubborn Carlyn Road in Sunday's $10,000 Mt. St. Helens Stakes, Back Street Gal's first try at a mile.

Back Street Gal, who was bet down to 3-5 despite stretching out off a two-month layoff, went to the front at the start and dueled with Our Lucky Gal through a half-mile in 47.42 seconds. Our Lucky Gal began to shorten stride entering the second turn, and Carlyn Road, who had been stalking the pacesetters from the outside, moved quickly to keep up the pressure on Back Street Gal. Those two dueled to deep stretch before Back Street Gal inched away to score by a half-length in 1:39.80.

"I really wanted to come from behind, but she broke so fast that I didn't have any choice but to let her go on with it," said regular rider Juan Gutierrez. "All I could do was to try to save as much horse as I could, and I saved just enough. When I asked her to give a little more at the end, she had it."

Trainer Jim Fergason, who bred Back Street Gal in partnership with owner Bill Hepperle, admitted to being relieved by his stable star's performance.

"I really didn't think she'd have a problem with the distance, but it made me a little nervous when they bet her down to 3-5," he said. "It was good to see her come through with a big effort and remain undefeated. They all get beat sometime, but it's a lot of fun to have one like this and I'd like to keep her unbeaten for as long as possible."

Fergason said he will choose between two stakes for Back Street Gal's next appearance: the 1 1/16-mile, $15,000 Oregon Oaks over this track on April 20, or the six-furlong, $35,000 U.S. Bank Stakes on opening day at Emerald Downs, April 19.

"It looks like either distance will be fine for her and the timing is the same, so I'll just wait to see how both races are shaping up and take my best shot," he said.

What next, a dead heat?

The farther they go, the closer they are at the finish. That is how it has gone in this track's popular marathon series, which continued on Sunday with the third of four legs.

Divisions of the initial nine-furlong leg on Feb. 21 were won by Produckson and From Mars by margins of a half-length and 1 1/4 lengths, respectively. The 10-furlong second leg on March 16 was won by West Seattle, who prevailed by a neck over G and L Special in a four-horse photo. And Sunday's 12-furlong third leg produced another blanket finish, with Splendid George proving a nose better than Produckson, who had just a nose on third-place finisher Rattlesnake Ridge.

Nobody is happier with the way the series has played out than director of racing Jerry Kohls.

"My concern was that we would run out of horses by the time we got to the fourth race, but as long as they keep beating each other in photo finishes I guess they'll keep coming back," said Kohls. "It has been a great show for the fans."

The first three legs of the series were run under $4,000 starter allowance conditions for a purse of $4,000 in each race. The two-mile finale, which will go as an overnight stakes with a purse of $10,000 on closing day, April 27, will be restricted to horses who have run in at least one of the prior races in the series.

Crispin out for the meet

Jockey Joe Crispin will sit out the remainder of the meeting with a series of suspensions. Crispin will finish serving 14 calendar days through April 12 for failing to cooperate with a security search on Feb. 23, and he will serve three racing days apiece for three separate riding infractions on March 22 and 23.

As there are only nine racing days remaining in the meeting, Crispin will be allowed to serve two days concurrently to avoid being suspended past the end of the meet.

Jensen horses dispersed

An informal dispersal of the racing stock of owner Luella Jensen, who died late last month, was held last Saturday in the barn area at Emerald Downs.

Though no results were distributed, auctioneer Joe LaDuca said 16 horses in training were sold for a total of slightly more than $30,000, with the sales topper being the promising Chronic Iced Tea, a 3-year-old half-brother to the stakes winner Weekender. Chronic Iced Tea brought a bid of $18,000 from Nate Jensen, Luella Jensen's son.