10/25/2001 11:00PM

Fit horses own greater edge than normal


PORTLAND, Ore. - Fitness will be at a premium during the early stages of the 80-day Portland Meadows season that opened Saturday.

Owing to a prolonged dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency over the acceptability of the track's plans for a waste water disposal system, horsemen weren't sure that the track would open for this meet until an agreement was reached early this month. So ontrack training, scheduled to commence Sept. 1, didn't get started until Oct. 8. By then, many horses had been turned out for months, partly because Salem did not hold its traditional summer meeting this year. There simply hasn't been enough time to get those horses fit.

"We tried to alleviate the situation by moving opening day back a week and shortening the distance of all races through the first weekend," Jerry Kohls, director of racing, said. "Even so, the horses who were turned out for any length of time aren't going to be ready, and there are probably a couple hundred of those."

Kohls said about 650 of the track's 830 stalls are filled, and all of stalls are assigned.

"I expect we'll be full by the second week of November," he said. "Until then it might be a little tough to fill some of the races, but the horsemen are doing everything they can to help out."

Horsemen are also pleased to be racing over a new surface, one of many improvements made by the track's new operator, Magna Entertainment Corp.

Magna spent more than $100,000 stripping the surface down to its base and rebuilding it with new material, and the result has drawn consistent praise from trainers.

The jockey colony, which figures to be the strongest in years with the addition of Gary Baze and Nate Chaves, among others, will benefit from newly refurbished quarters, and fans will notice numerous improvements to the frontside facility. Both the clubhouse and the turf club have been renovated with new carpeting and individual televisions on each table, and a new simulcast center has been constructed near the north end of the mainline on the ground floor level of the grandstand.

"It's a new era," said Kohls. "Everybody is chomping at the bit to get under way."

Just remember to look for fit horses.

LePley elected new commission chair

Seattle lawyer and horse owner Pat LePley was elected chairman at last week's meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission. LePley takes over for Dolores Sibonga, who resigned from the commission earlier this month to pursue other interests. Sibonga's resignation left the commission with just four members, but Gov. Gary Lock is expected to appoint a fifth commissioner within two weeks.

The question of what to do with funds generated through simulcasting at the now-defunct Playfair Race Course in Spokane was taken up at last week's WHRC meeting. The commission is now holding $237,000 in purse money, $67,000 in Washington-bred owners awards money, and $44,000 in Washington-bred breeders awards money from Playfair. The Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest, which represents eastern Washington horsemen, asked that the money be held in escrow for a maximum of two years in the hope that racing will be resurrected in Spokane, while Emerald Downs officials favored distributing the money at the next Emerald meet. Both groups were asked to submit written proposals by Dec. 1.

o Officer and You, the morning line favorites for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, respectively, both have strong Washington connections. Officer's dam, St. Helens Shadow, was bred by Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms and sold for $15,500 at the 1994 Washington Horse Breeders Association Summer Yearling Sale. Our Dani, the dam of You, was bred in Washington by Jerry and Peggy Woods, who sold her as a weanling at Keeneland.