03/05/2003 1:00AM

Cee Cruiser newest Oregon Derby threat

Email

PORTLAND, Ore. - There is a new hat in the Oregon Derby ring, and it belongs to Cee Cruiser.

Cee Cruiser, an Oregon-bred son of Cee's Tizzy who races for breeder Troy Lange and partner Dan Miller, earned serious consideration for the April 13 Oregon Derby with a breakthrough performance in last Sunday's McFadden Memorial at Portland Meadows.

Under regular rider Twyla Beckner, Cee Cruiser shot to a three-length lead over five rivals with an initial quarter-mile in 23.42 seconds, and then remained unchallenged through six furlongs in 1:12.49. Glad to Be Here, the 8-5 favorite off impressive back-to-back wins, threatened at the top of the lane and got to the leader's throatlatch at midstretch, but Cee Cruiser dug back in and was inching away again when he reached the wire three-quarters of a length in front. His time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:47. Jitterbug closed from last to get third, three lengths farther back.

"It feels awfully good to win this race," said trainer Delmer Webb. "I really didn't know if he had it in him or not, but he was training awfully well and he is bred for the distance. I thought he deserved a shot at it."

Cee Cruiser was an impressive winner over maidens in his second start on Dec. 14, then ran third and fourth in a pair of allowance races before he finished a close third in the six-furlong Flying Lark Stakes on Feb. 9. Four of the horses Cee Cruiser faced in the McFadden had outfinished him in his three starts against winners, but he turned the tables on Glad to Be Here, Jitterbug, Stately Jack Flash, and Yada Yada Yada.

"It helped that they left him alone on the lead this time," said Webb. "But I also think he is just now starting to come around. He might be pretty tough to beat from here on out."

The first three finishers in the McFadden, which was restricted to statebreds, figure to go on to the open Preview Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 22 and the Oregon Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Oregon Futurity winner Glad to Be Here lost nothing in stature with his determined run at Cee Cruiser, and Jitterbug continued to show improvement while looking for more ground and a faster pace.

Trainer Roger Stevenson has never considered fourth-place finisher Les Crime to be an Oregon Derby horse, and the connections of fifth-place finisher Stately Jack Flash and trailer Yada Yada Yada may have to reevaluate their derby plans. Columbia River winner Stately Jack Flash is looking more and more to be at his best sprinting, while Yada Yada Yada has turned in two consecutive poor efforts and doesn't appear to be the same horse who won the Bill Wineberg Stakes in his debut last November.

Lethal Grande points for Mile

Lethal Grande, who was named champion Oregon-bred 3-year-old colt or gelding for 2002 at last month's OTBA awards banquet, has returned to Portland Meadows to train for he $35,000 Portland Meadows Mile on April 27.

Lethal Grande, who earned more than $62,000 while racing in California last year, worked three furlongs in 37.40 seconds last Sunday for trainer G. D. Khalsa.

"I was Pat Sonnen's assistant when Pat had him here as a 2-year-old," Khalsa said. "As a matter of fact, I took him and a few others to California to get him ready for his 2-year-old campaign.

"It's great to see him again. He looks just the same as he did at 2, which is surprising since he is two years older now. But he is in excellent shape and he seems ready to run."

Lethal Grande, who was claimed by current owner Mike Pollowitz for $25,000 in December at Hollywood, will prep for the Mile in the six-furlong Governor's Speed on March 30.

Ex-HBPA executive director dies

Hugo Toschi, who served as executive director of the Washington Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association in the 1980's, died last week. Toschi, who was 82, was credited with rescuing Yakima Meadows when that track went bankrupt in 1986, forming a non-profit group to operate the track until it could be sold a year later.

Toschi had retired by the time Longacres was sold in 1990, but he was recruited to form the Emerald Racing Association, which kept Washington racing alive for two more years at Longacres and for three years at Yakima Meadows until Emerald Downs opened in 1996.

* Jockey Joe Crispin will be out indefinitely after injuring his left knee in a gate mishap last Saturday. Crispin was scheduled to meet with doctors this week to determine if the injury will require surgery.