01/12/2007 1:00AM

Charlie's Pride returns to the races


PORTLAND, Ore. - Charlie's Pride, the winner of last season's Portland Meadows Mile, will race for the first time in nearly eight months on Sunday when he takes on Lethal Grande and others in a six-furlong invitational handicap with a purse of $7,800.

Charlie's Pride, a lightly raced 6-year-old son of Indian Charlie, won all four of his starts at the 2005-06 Portland Meadows meeting. Trainer R. G. Pierce went in for joint replacement surgery after the Portland Meadows season ended, and Charlie's Pride went to trainer Tom Longstaff's barn at Hastings Park. He started only once at Hastings, running sixth to Quiet Cash in the John Longden Handicap on May 22. Charlie's Pride was subsequently in training at Emerald Downs with trainer Steve Fisher, but races were hard to come by and he was turned out at midsummer without starting at Emerald.

Charlie's Pride resumed training here with Pierce in October and has progressed slowly, but his trainer feels he is finally ready to race again.

"I hope he is ready, anyway," said Pierce. "He only shows three official workouts, but he has been galloping every day and he seems to be feeling good. I'm a little concerned about throwing him in against the best sprinters on the grounds, but I really don't have much choice.

"Last year he had all of his conditions and I could take it one step at a time, but now that he is a stakes winner I don't have that option. What it comes down to is that I've got to get him started someplace, and I guess this is as good a place as any."

Though it will be difficult for Charlie's Pride to win while conceding conditioning on Sunday, Pierce is hoping for a solid effort that will propel his stable star toward a defense of his Mile title on Feb. 25.

"He has a lot to prove between now and then, but I like him very much," Pierce said. "I'm anxious to get him going again."

Lethal Grande plans

Lethal Grande also has his sights set on the Portland Meadows Mile, a race he won in 2004 for trainer G. D. Khalsa. Lethal Grande has since been claimed by several trainers, most recently by Tom Longstaff for owner Terry Georgeopoulos at Hastings in August. Longstaff has kept him in trainer Armando Rodriguez's barn at this meeting, and Lethal Grande has won his last two starts by more than 11 combined lengths. In his most recent outing, the 8-year-old Lethal Grande won the Oregon Sprint Championship on Dec. 10 by seven lengths in 1:09.80, .80 seconds off his own track record for six furlongs.

"He could have gone faster if he had needed to," said Rodriguez. "He was really just jogging that day. The race didn't take anything out of him, and he has been training really well since then. I expect him to run big again on Sunday."

Rodriguez said Longstaff's plan is to come back with Lethal Grande in the six-furlong Governor's Speed Handicap on Feb.o5, then train into the Feb. 25 Mile.

Tom Two takes on elders

Yet another Mile hopeful who will be in action on Sunday is 4-year-old, Tom Two. He returned from a long layoff to win the 1 1/16-mile Oregon His Stakes on Dec. 10 by nearly eight lengths. He will be making his first start against older horses on Sunday.

"Meeting older horses for the first time is a big deal for any horse," said trainer Delmer Webb. "No matter how good they are, they have to prove themselves all over again against older horses. It will be interesting to see how he fits."

Webb said Tom Two is coming up to the race in excellent shape.

"I couldn't ask for him to be doing any better," he said. "He has been feeling good and training well, and he is even putting on weight. I really think he has made a lot of progress since last spring."

Fergason loaded with 3-year-old fillies

Trainer Jim Fergason dominated the 2-year-old filly division here with Silver Patrona, who went 4 for 4 while winning all three of the stakes in the division through 2006. Fergason could be even more dominant this year in the 3-year-old filly division.

Silver Patrona will be back in action in a one-mile invitational handicap here on Feb. 18, and she will be joined by stablemates Bagels Baby and Danjuria, who ran one-two in a six-furlong invitational handicap here last Sunday.

Bagels Baby, who was making only her second start, won that race by 2o1/4 lengths in 1:12.74.

"I was expecting her to win because she was so impressive in her first race, when she got stopped three times and still managed to win," said Fergason. "I was more surprised that Danjuria ran so well, because she had been off since November. I'm still not sure either one of them can run with Silver Patrona, but they deserve a shot."

o The track figures to be slower when racing resumes on Sunday. Using a machine called a rotavator, the track crew dug up the track to a depth of six inches on Wednesday. The track crew subsequently compacted the track and cut a new cushion. The new base should be a good deal softer, which is what most horsemen wanted.

* Emerald Downs was awarded 91 racing dates for 2007 at Thursday's meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission. The track will race from April 20 through Sept. 30.

* Chuck Potter, the simulcast coordinator at Emerald Downs since the track opened in 1996, died on Thursday of a heart attack. He was 52. Funeral arrangements are pending for Potter, a former jockey agent and an owner of several horses.