12/14/2009 12:00AM

Ex Mountain Cop looks to defend title in Sprint

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It's the biggest day of the year for Oregon-breds on Monday at Portland Meadows as the track offers a card with five statebred stakes and two starter handicaps.

"This is what our Oregon-bred runners point for," said trainer Jim Fergason, who has contenders in four of the races.

"This could make our Christmas," said trainer Ben Root, who has the favorites in the two juvenile stakes as well as the favorite in the one-mile Oregon Hers Stakes in Nikki S.

Defending champ Ex Mountain Cop is the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the six-furlong, $12,000 Lethal Grande Sprint Championship, which tops the undercard. The 5-year-old gelding, who has won 9 of 12 starts at Portland Meadows, was a wire-to-wire winner at 1-2 odds last year.

"There's some speed in there," said Jonathan Nance, Ex Mountain Cop's trainer, referring to Jimbos Fire Ant, one of two fillies entered in the race. "But there's nothing he can't handle."

Following a disappointing effort in the Portland Meadows Mile in March, Ex Mountain Cop was off for six months while waiting for the current meeting to start.

"He really likes this track because it's a little bit of a forgiving track," said Nance, who noted speed holds well at Portland Meadows, too.

Ex Mountain Cop has run twice at this meet, finishing fifth in his comeback in the Inaugural Handicap and then just missing in a photo in his second start against allowance company. He hasn't raced since that Oct. 28 start, partially by design but also because a race didn't fill for him three weeks ago.

Although he has had only one work since then, Nance thinks his sprint star goes into the race against six rivals "as good as he was last year." Nance said Ex Mountain Cop has "had plenty of long gallops" and will be fit.

He'll need to be, with Jimbos Fire Ant, a multiple stakes winner drawn inside him. An extended speed duel could boost the chances of last year's runner-up, Tillman's Image.

Nikki S., a closer who won the Oregon Oaks here this spring, is facing a number of sprinters in the $10,000 Hers for 3-year-old fillies at one mile, which should work in her favor. Only one of her five rivals, Purple Kaycee, who was claimed for $4,000 when third in her route debut last time, has gone beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

"She'll be at the mercy of others, so David [Lopez, the jockey] will have to judge the pace," Root said. "I think she'll be a little closer than some think. The key is not to push her too soon. She can close into a moderate pace."

The $10,000 His for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles attracted 12 runners and seems to be the most wide-open stakes on the card. Thunder Thorn, an invitational handicap winner here in February, is the 7-2 morning-line favorite.

Fergason's Teddy Two Shoes, who has won twice since being vanned off in his debut, will try a route for the first time, but his breeding suggests that he'll like the distance.

"He can sprint a little bit," said Fergason, who points out that Teddy Two Shoes's family has enjoyed more success going long.