02/25/2004 1:00AM

'Baquero' even surprised trainer


PORTLAND, Ore. - Northern Baquero required eight starts to graduate from the maiden ranks against modest $6,250 company at Portland Meadows in January, and ran a nonthreatening third against $8,000 nonwinners-of-two in his first try against winners on Feb. 7. Trainer Eulia Bischoff was only being candid, then, when she said her 3-year-old's chances in last Saturday's 1 1/16-mile McFadden Memorial were "about zero."

Midway around the second turn, that assessment seemed dead-on, because Northern Baquero was dropping back to sixth along the rail after stalking the early pace in third.

"I really didn't think I had that much horse left," rider Melissa Peery said. "Then we hit the quarter pole, and he started running again."

Northern Baquero closed resolutely along the inside, passing the second choice, Might E Man, inside the sixteenth pole and collaring 3-5 favorite Mythical Road near the wire to prevail by a half-length at 15-1, odds that seemed laughably low only moments earlier.

"It's pretty hard to believe, isn't it?" said Bischoff, who claimed Northern Baquero for Dave and Pam Wood of Medford, Ore., for $8,000 out of his debut. "The only explanation I can give is that he is bred to go long, and he trained up to this race really well. Melissa gave him a nice ride, too, and I'm really tickled for her."

It was the first stakes win for Peery, who moved into sixth place in the jockey standings after winning twice on the card to increase her total at the meet to 19.

Northern Baquero, who is out of the Northern Jove mare Northern Defender, became the fourth stakes winner from the first crop of his sire, Baquero. The others are Canadian stakes winner Classa Red Win, Emerald Downs stakes winner Americas Pride, and local stakes winner Belle Fourche. The McFadden was the first route attempt for Northern Baquero, who will go next in the 1 1/16-mile Preview Stakes on March 13.

* Might E Man's third-place finish in the McFadden earned $320 for his new honorary owner, Lynn Meech of Longview, Wash., who gets the equivalent to one-quarter of the horse's earnings through the remainder of the meeting after his name was selected in a drawing on Saturday.

'Fame' grabs his 24th local win

When trainer James Glenn Jr. stood in the winner's circle with In Search of Fame after he won last Friday night's 440-yard Portland Meadows Championship, his 24th win from 30 starts over the track, Glenn beamed as though it were the first time he had been there.

"I never get tired of seeing this guy win," the trainer said. "He is an amazing horse, especially over this track, and he is really doing well now. I don't think I had him real tight for his first couple of starts at this meeting, but he is at his best now."

Remarkably, the 6-year-old In Search of Fame was the second choice to his younger rival, Mr Eye Will, who was beaten a half-length and finished second. Mr Eye Will broke on top but couldn't finish with In Search of Fame, who scored in 22.64 seconds under Danny Boag.

The Portland Meadows Championship was one of several races featuring surprising betting patterns last weekend. Friday's nightcap saw the favored Sissy Road pay $3 to win and $5.40 to show after a large show bet was placed on Lightning Flashing, who finished fourth at 15-1. Then in Saturday's second race, 3-2 morning-line favorite La Baquero went off at 1-20, which may be a record low at Portland Meadows, before finishing third to Justa Toad, who paid $97.20 to win after being listed at 5-1 in the program.

Back Street Gal still perfect here

Another horse for this course, Back Street Gal, improved her local record to 8 for 8 when she defeated seven other fillies and mares in an allowance race last Saturday. Back Street Gal, a 4-year-old daughter of Cisco Road from the barn of trainer Jim Fergason, failed to threaten in five starts at Golden Gate Fields before returning to her favorite track last month.

"I'm not really sure why she didn't run better in California," Fergason said. "She came back in good shape, though, and she picked right up where she left off. She does love it here."

Lethal Grande is top Oregon-bred

Lethal Grande was named top older horse and horse of the year for 2003 at the annual Oregon-bred awards banquet at Portland Meadows last Saturday night.

Lethal Grande, who is now 5, won four races, including two local stakes, for owner Michael Pollowitz and trainer G.D. Khalsa last year. Lethal Grande, who has earned more than $130,000, was also named the state's best 2-year-old in 2001 and its best 3-year-old in 2002.

Other awards went to Americas Pride for best 2-year-old filly; Tom Won for best 2-year-old colt or gelding; Chancy Chancy for best 3-year-old filly; Cee Cruiser for best 3-year-old colt or gelding; and Moonlit Maddie for top older filly or mare. Sushi Q., the dam of stakes winners Tom Won and Yesss, was named broodmare of the year, and Abstract, the sire of Yesss, was named sire of the year for the third consecutive year.

Dr. Jack and Margaret "Cookie" Root, who operate Oakhurst Thoroughbreds in Newberg, Ore., were named breeders of the year and were the recipients of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Award.