11/01/2002 12:00AM

BVan Horne didn't return empty-handed


PORTLAND, Ore. - On the face of it, trainer Debbie Van Horne's recent trip to Southern California was pretty much a bust. Van Horne took 2-year-old Knightsbridge Road to Santa Anita for the six-furlong Sunny Slope Stakes on Oct. 19, but he was used up chasing the torrid pace of eventual winner Only the Best and virtually eased in the stretch, finishing last.

"In retrospect I guess you could say I threw him to the lions," said Van Horne. "I didn't really give him his best chance. We were only there for three or four days, but I probably should have taken a week or 10 days and given him a chance to breeze over the track. Maybe he still would have gotten beat, but I think he would have given a better account of himself."

There was, however, a silver lining to the experience.

While Van Horne was down in Southern California, she met up with Northwest-based trainer Marty Kenney.

"Marty hooked me up with a nice horse and a good rider to bring back up here," said Van Horne. "It wasn't a wasted trip after all."

The horse is Game Planner, a 2-year-old son of Game Plan who is scheduled to make his racing debut in Saturday's OTBA Sales Stakes at six furlongs. Kenney purchased the gelding as a yearling for $9,500 at last year's Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders Association sale and now owns him in partnership with Jim Ingalls. Game Planner worked three times for Kenney in Southern California, but the trainer elected to send him to Portland because he is an Oregon-bred.

Depending upon how he fares in the $6,800 OTBA Stakes, Kenney could elect to leave him here for the $12,920 Bill Wineberg Stakes on Nov. 17 and the $25,015 Oregon Futurity on Dec. 14.

The rider is Kevin Murray, who began accepting mounts here last weekend and booted home three winners, including the Van Horne-trained Cigi, who defeated maiden special weight company on Saturday.

Murray, 37, won nearly 600 races for almost $5 million in purse earnings over a 17-year career that began at Canterbury Park and took him to tracks in Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, New York, and California before he hung up his tack about two years ago.

"I had gotten a little sour after 17 years, so I decided to try something else," said Murray. "I got a job with Wayne Lukas and his assistant, Randy Bradshaw, and I also worked for Mike Marlow, who used to be Lukas's assistant. It was a nice break from riding, and it really taught me to appreciate the hard work and dedication of these horsemen. But after a while, I got the urge to ride again."

Murray left at the beginning of the Del Mar meeting to ride in Nebraska, where he won 15 races at Columbus, Lincoln, and Horsemen's Park, including a $29,000 stakes aboard the good filly Oglala Sue at Horsemen's. When that circuit ended in September, he returned to Southern California without firm plans.

"I could have ridden a few horses at Santa Anita, but I wanted to ride regularly, and I knew I'd never do that there," said Murray. "Then I met Martin Kenney through my friend Kory Owens, who is married to Martin's daughter, and he suggested I come up here. He introduced me to Debbie Van Horne, and Debbie hooked me up with my agent, Mike Delnick, so here I am.

"People have been exceptionally nice to me, and I feel right at home. My hope is to do well here and make some good contacts, then try my luck up at Emerald Downs."

Options for Knightsbridge Road

As for Knightsbridge Road, a speedy son of Cisco Road, he is currently in training here with Van Horne, who is unsure about plans for the Emerald Downs stakes winner.

"I'll get a Golden Gate condition book and see what they have for him," said Van Horne. "I'm not sure there are any stakes for him, but if they have an allowance or an optional claimer he can run in, I'll take him there. If not, we might run him in the Columbia River Stakes here on Dec. 1. It has a $10,000 purse and his owners live in this area, so it would be fun to run him here."

* Portland Meadows will stage the first of its $12,000 handicapping contests for the 2002-03 meeting on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10. The contests are limited to 80 entrants and the entry fee is $200. Details are on the track's website, www.portlandmeadows.com.