05/04/2004 11:00PM

Fergason's winning ways continue at new meeting

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Jim Fergason is on a roll.

Fergason wrapped up the recently concluded Portland Meadows meeting with a flourish, saddling three winners on the final Saturday card to equal, surpass, and extend the record of 48 wins set by brother Rolland Fergason in 1999. He was also prominent in stakes competition, sending out the meet's top 3-year-old filly, Quiz the Maid, to a trio of added-money wins.

Fergason kept a little something in reserve for the Emerald Downs meeting, however. He raced his best horse, Crimson Design, only twice in Portland. Crimson Design, a 3-year-old son of the trainer's good stallion, Cisco Road, defeated maiden special weight and allowance rivals by big margins in fast times, but did not make his stakes debut until last Sunday, when he took on nine rivals in the $40,000 Auburn Stakes at six furlongs.

Under a clever ride by Juan Gutierrez, Crimson Design engaged Random Memo for the lead through moderate fractions of 22.60 and 45.40 seconds, then powered home with a final quarter in 23.60 to stop the timer in 1:09 with 1 1/2 lengths to spare. Random Memo held second by a head over the fast-finishing Spanish Highway, while 3-2 favorite Corvallis Dee faded to seventh after stalking the early pace.

"Jim said to keep him in company on the backside, then he'd give me a lot in the stretch," said Gutierrez. "That's what happened. He really finished strong."

Crimson Design is the first stakes winner for 75-year-old owner Lawrence O'Brine, whose interest in owning horses was sparked when he saw Miracle Escort win the Longacres Mile in 1957. He began buying horses in 1972 in the hope of someday owing a Mile horse, but he enjoyed only modest success until he bought Crimson Design from breeder Marvin Peitila as a 2-year-old for $5,000.

"I really wanted a yearling that Marv had, but he didn't want to sell that one so I bought Crimson Design instead," said O'Brine. "When Crimson Design showed he could run some, I traded half of him for half of the yearling. Now Marv and I own both horses together."

Crimson Design is still a ways away from fulfilling his owner's dream of having a horse in the Longacres Mile, but he is undefeated after three starts and he has improved with each outing.

"The Mile is the race I'd like to win," O'Brine said. "Maybe Crimson Design will come up and be able to run a mile. We don't know. But right now he's looking awful good."

Baze making most with fewer

Robbie Baze has made admirable progress since he launched his training career here with just a couple of horses in 2000. That year he won just one race at Emerald, but in 2001 he won four and in 2002 he doubled that total to eight. Last year he had the heady experience of sitting atop the training standings after the first week of racing, but with only 20 horses in his barn, he knew he couldn't stay there long. Still, he again nearly doubled his win total to 15.

Baze again jumped out on top in the race for the training title at the current stand, and after three weeks of racing he is still on top, with 6 wins from 26 starts. What's more, he now has the ammunition to contend deep into the meeting.

"I've got 35 horses now, so we'll see how it goes," he said. "I'm really happy with the way my horses are running now. I ran a few at Portland Meadows, but most of them are coming off long rests and they should be good for the whole meeting."

Baze's stable star is Slewicide Cruise, a strapping son of Slewdledo who ran second to track record setter Willie the Cat on opening night and then came back to defeat optional claiming company at 5 1/2 furlongs in last Friday night's feature. Baze said that Slewicide Cruise, a lightly raced 4-year-old, was purchased sight-unseen by owners Tom and Margo Boening from the Internet.

"He was tiny when he first arrived here as a 2-year-old, and I never even worked him because his knees weren't closed," said the trainer. "Last year he was shinny and I only got to run him three times here, but he broke his maiden at Portland before I turned him out in November. This year he is all grown up. He is about 16.2 or 16.3 [hands] and he weighs about 1,200 pounds, plus he knows what he is doing. I think he's going to be a pretty nice horse, especially when they go longer."

Baze said Slewicide Cruise will make his next start in the Fox Sports Net Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on May 23.

Vicky Baze back in the saddle

Vicky Baze rode for the first time since 2001 on Sunday, guiding Crystal Mt. Stevie to a fifth-place finish in an allowance race. Baze, who launched her career as Vicky Aragon in 1985, won two riding titles at Longacres and still ranks as the nation's third-leading female rider with 1,769 wins.

Baze worked as jockey agent for her husband, Gary Baze, for the past two years, but began galloping horses again this spring and plans to ride sparingly at this meeting.

* Lethal Grande was named horse of the meeting at the recently concluded Portland Meadows stand, at which he won both the Inaugural Handicap and the prestigious Portland Meadows Mile. An Oregon-bred, Lethal Grande raced for Mike Pollowitz and was trained by G.D. Khalsa.