04/10/2003 11:00PM

Derby timing wrong for Cee Cruiser

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PORTLAND, Ore. - For the colts and geldings who began this meeting as 2-year-olds in October, it is a test of endurance just to make it to the $25,000 Oregon Derby, which will be renewed at nine furlongs on Sunday.

Cee Cruiser, who figured to be favored after posting back-to-back wins in the McFadden Memorial and the Preview, both at 1 1/16 miles, didn't quite make it.

"He came out of the Preview a little body-sore on his left side," said his trainer, Delmer Webb. "I thought the three weeks between races would be enough time to get him right again, but it wasn't. He is getting better every day, but he is still not quite right, and he's too nice a horse to take any chances with him.

"I'll give him some time off and bring him back at Emerald, but I have to admit I'm disappointed he couldn't run in the derby. He is eating well and he is full of energy, but we just ran out of time."

First Laugh catches a break

Though loath to rejoice at another's misfortune, trainer Jonathan Nance wasn't long in realizing that Cee Cruiser's defection will boost the chances of his own entrant, First Laugh.

Nance and owner Steve Smith claimed First Laugh, a speedy son of Dr. Giggles, early last month at Golden Gate specifically to run him in the derby. Prepping in the Preview, First Laugh made the early running under pressure from Cee Cruiser before yielding to Cee Cruiser and the late-running Glad to Be Here.

"It was a pretty good effort considering he had only been on the grounds for a few days," said Nance. "He has settled in now, and I have gotten to know him a little better, so I'm hopeful that he'll be able to take a step forward.

"The pace will be a big factor, and I've got to think he'll have a little easier time on the front end with Cee Cruiser on the bench. If he can relax and back up the pace a little, I think he'll get 1 1/8 miles just fine.

"I know he's fit enough. He was fit when we got him, and I haven't been taking it easy with him in the mornings. When you are going for the money you've got to be ready, and he is as ready as I can get him."

Another derby speedster

First Laugh might not have everything his own way on the lead in the derby, however. Lacenter Flash, who ran an even fourth in the Preview, also has keen speed.

Though Lacenter Flash, a son of Cisco Road and the Key to the Mint mare Night Sister, has proven quite versatile, it has not escaped the notice of trainer Chuck Hiatt that both of his victories, by margins of 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 lengths, were wire-to-wire affairs.

"He ran pretty well in the Preview, but it is beginning to look as though he might need the lead for his very best effort," said Hiatt. "He is a big, long-striding colt, and he just seems more comfortable when he's not behind horses.

"We'll try to get him to the front and see what happens," Hiatt said. "He has Cisco Road on top for speed and Key to the Mint on the bottom for stamina, so 1 1/8 miles should be a good distance for him. I'm looking for a good effort."

Hiatt was forced to make some late adjustments to Lacenter Flash's preparation for the derby. Lacenter Flash was scheduled to drill a strong five furlongs on Sunday, but a loose horse on the track forced rider Shawna Barber to pull Lacenter Flash up in mid-work. To compensate for the missed work, Hiatt worked Lacenter Flash an easy half-mile in 53.20 seconds on Tuesday.

"Sometimes you have to improvise," he said. "It isn't what I wanted, but I'm hoping that between the two works he got what he needed to be ready."

Commission cool to Playfair request

A suggestion that Playfair be allowed to cancel its scheduled 40-day 2003 season while continuing to offer full-card simulcast wagering got a chilly reception at Thursday's meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission. Three of the four commissioners stated flatly that they believe the proposal is contrary to state law.

The suggestion came from Eric Nelson, whose Cleopatra Downs LLC assumed ownership of the Spokane track almost a year ago. Nelson cited events beyond his control - including rising insurance costs, a proposed 1.5 percent gross revenue tax, a new requirement that the track fully fund its regulatory costs, the absence of a working relationship with horsemen, and even the war in Iraq - as factors that make it impractical, or at least imprudent, for Playfair to race in 2003.

The commission's chairman, Hartly Kruger, commissioner Ralph Vacca, and an outgoing commissioner, James Hovis (attending his last meeting) all said they felt it was not legal for Playfair to continue simulcasting without conducting at least 40 days of live racing.

Nelson asked to be able make his case at the commission's May meeting that the commission has the authority to waive that requirement, and he was granted that opportunity. Nelson was told to be prepared at that meeting to answer definitively whether Playfair will race in 2003.

Glenn has half of Futurity field

Trainer James Glenn, Jr. was a busy man last Saturday, saddling six 2-year-olds for two trials for the Portland Meadows Quarter Horse Futurity, and his efforts were rewarded.

Glenn qualified five horses, or half the field, for the April 19 final, including the top qualifier, DDF Mea De Bully, who won the second heat in 16.50 seconds for 300 yards.

Among Glenn's other qualifiers was Getting Outa Traffic, a half-brother to older Quarter Horse kingpin In Search of Fame, who has won 20 of his 23 starts at Portland Meadows.