03/08/2008 12:00AM

Brave Hearted looking sharp for Mile

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Brave Hearted has been in razor-sharp form since this meeting began in October, posting three wins, two seconds, and a third from six tries against the best older horses on the grounds. Trainer Eulia Bischoff only hopes he can retain that form in Monday's 41st running of the $30,000-added Portland Meadows Mile.

"The Mile has been our goal all along, and at this point I am just trying to keep him in shape," said Bischoff. "He is plenty fit, so I just want him sound and happy. I want him as fresh as I can get him, given the fact that he raced just three weeks ago."

That race was the six-furlong Governor's Speed Handicap, which was slated as his final mile prep. Bischoff would have been happy just to see Brave Hearted finish well, but he jumped up and won at odds of 7-1.

"I was really shocked, because he has never been much of a sprinter," said Bischoff. "I think that race showed how much he has improved over the course of this meeting, because he couldn't beat those horses at six furlongs in October. I still think he is a much better horse at a mile, though. I'm a lot more confident coming into this race than I was for the last one. I'm not saying he'll win, but I feel pretty certain that he'll run a big race."

Desert Sea seeking revenge

Bischoff feels her stiffest competition will come from Desert Sea, and so does just about everyone else who saw the Feb. 18 running of the Governor's Speed. Brave Hearted finished very strongly to win in 1:10.80, but Desert Sea flew down the lane to miss by only a half-length, and he was in front a stride or two past the wire.

"We were really pleased with the way he ran," said Robbie Baze, who trains Desert Sea for Ron Whited's K J Star Stable. "We didn't even know if he could sprint. There was only one sprint race on his form when the owner claimed him, and it wasn't all that good. We were just hoping to get a prep into him for the Mile, and to get Gary Baze's opinion of him. The owner flew Gary in from Phoenix to ride him, and Gary said he would be happy to come back for the Mile. He really likes the horse."

Stable manager Jerry Miller claimed Desert Sea, a 5-year-old son of Seacliff, for K J Star Stable at Golden Gate on Jan. 28 for $16,000. He finished second at a mile that day, and he was coming off a mile victory for the same tag. Last year, he posted back-to-back wins at a mile and 1 1/16 miles against $25,000 and $32,000 company.

Robbie Baze will also saddle Flaming Bullet for Monday's Mile, and he has an extra incentive for hoping that consistent performer will run well. While Desert Sea is slated to go to the barn of trainer Charles Essex at Emerald Downs after his Mile run, Flaming Bullet will remain in Baze's care at Emerald.

"George Colello had him last year, and I got him when George retired," said Baze. "I'm really happy to have him, because he is a very useful horse. He can go short or long, on or off the pace, and he always seems to run well. He worked a really nice five furlongs in 1:00.20 last Monday, and I think he is coming up to a big race."

Trainer high on Alabama Rain

Those looking for a live longshot in the Mile might want to examine Alabama Rain, who posted his first win from five tries at the meeting in a recent allowance race at a mile.

"I think he is a real sleeper," said trainer Tom Longstaff. "He is an old class horse who has earned over $400,000, and he is really starting to come around. He has had lots of problems, but they all seem to be under control now. They ran the Governor's Speed in 1:10.80, and a few days later he worked six furlongs in 1:11.60. I think he stacks up really well against this field, and he has a big shot to win."

Longstaff also figures to saddle one of the shortest-priced horses at the meeting on Tuesday's closing-day card. The 3-year-old filly Blue Sky Holiday, who has won her last three starts by a combined 25 1/4 lengths, will race that day. The question is whether she will race in the $20,000 Oregon Oaks at 1 1/16 miles or the $25,000 Oregon Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

"My preference is to run her in the Oaks, because she has already beaten the best fillies on the grounds," said the trainer. "I nominated her for the Derby just in case the Oaks doesn't fill, but I think she would be the one to beat in that race, too. She is really at the top of her game now, and she loves to run a route of ground."

Jockey incentives set at $40K

A total of $40,000 will be awarded to riders at the Oregon nonprofit meetings this year in the state's jockey incentive program, which is designed to ensure that the brief meets at Union, Grants Pass, Prineville, Tillamook, and Burns will have enough riders. Each jockey will receive an additional $20 for every mount he rides at the summer meet. The remaining amount, which is expected to exceed $13,000, will be divided equally between all riders who ride at least one mount at each of the five meetings.