02/08/2002 1:00AM

Flying Lark elevated from mere prep


PORTLAND, Ore. - With the current Portland Meadows meeting coming to an early close on Sunday, there is no reason for horsemen to hold back in that day's $7,500-added Flying Lark Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

Under different circumstances, trainer Pat Sonnen might prefer to wait until his speedy filly Lammy could meet her own sex. Laurie Palfry might be seeking more seasoning for her promising maiden winner, Can't Be Golden, and R. G. Pierce might choose to look for a prep race for Manito Gentleman, who has not raced since winning the Columbia River Stakes on Nov. 4.

Even Cookie Root and Eulia Bischoff, who would likely run divisional leaders Fit to Bet and Brass Halo on Sunday in any case, might be bringing their stable stars into the Flying Lark with one eye on longer, richer stakes to come.

As it is, the Flying Lark is all that is left. Just about all of the nominees will run, and none will be holding anything back. What was designed as a prep for the 1 1/16-mile McFadden Memorial, the one-mile Preview, and the nine-furlong Oregon Derby has become a destination race, one that trainers point for with little regard for what comes next.

For Fit to Bet, who is coming off wins in the rich Oregon Futurity at a mile and the Beaver State Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs, the Flying Lark might even be a championship race. A win on Sunday would make Fit to Bet, a homebred son of Stately Wager, the only triple stakes winner at the stand, putting him in line for horse of the Meeting honors.

"Horse of the half-meeting might be more like it," noted Cookie Root, who trains Fit to Bet for her son, Bradford Root. "But, yes, it would be nice for him to get that kind of recognition, and we'll certainly be trying our best to win this race. We still feel he is a better router, but he won his last race at 5 1/2 furlongs, so he proved he can sprint. He is doing well right now, and six furlongs is sure to be better for him than 5 1/2.

"He'll be meeting some tough horses this time, though. The one who worries me the most is Brass Halo. We had a hard time getting by that horse last time, and he had every reason to need that race."

Brass Halo, a Dixieland Brass gelding who races for Dave and Pam Wood, has yet to come up to a race in apple-pie order. He was short on training when he made his debut here on Oct. 27, but managed to post a front-running win over maiden allowance company at 4 1/2 furlongs. Coming back on short rest in the five-furlong Columbia River on Nov. 4, he finished third, beaten just a half-length by Manito Gentleman, despite racing wide throughout. He didn't resurface until the Beaver State on Jan. 20, when he yielded only grudgingly to Fit to Bet in the final strides.

"I was really pleased with the way he ran that day, because I was afraid he would need that race," reported trainer Eulia Bischoff. "I had turned him out for three weeks after the Columbia River, and then three days after I brought him back he had a temperature of 105 degrees. It was another two weeks before I could put him back in training, so I was rushing him a little to make the Beaver State.

"Surprisingly, he wasn't that tired after the Beaver State, and he has trained strongly since then. This will be the first time he has come into a race in the right way, so I'm hoping he'll show us what he can do. He won't have another chance for a while."

Bagshot joins Oakhurst roster

Jack and Cookie Root have added Bagshot to the growing list of stallions standing at their Oakhurst Thoroughbreds in Newberg, Ore. Bagshot, an 8-year-old son of Smokester, retired last year with $729,104 in earnings from four wins, including a victory in the $250,000 Cal Cup Classic, from 31 starts.

Bagshot joins Dayjur, Baquero, True Confidence, and Klinsman at Oakhurst Thoroughbreds.