04/11/2003 12:00AM

Glad to be Here one to beat


PORTLAND, Ore. - Glad to be Here will be favored by default in Sunday's $25,000 Oregon Derby at Portland Meadows, which matches eight promising 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

Glad to be Here, who races for breeder Burle Oakley, will benefit from the defection of Cee Cruiser, who will remain on the sidelines because he has been plagued by lingering soreness since his victory in the March 22 Preview Stakes.

Glad to be Here ran a good second to Cee Cruiser in the 1 1/16-mile Preview, and also in the March 2 McFadden Memorial at the same distance. Before those runner-up finishes, Glad to be Here ran off victories in the one- mile Oregon Futurity in December and in an open allowance race at a mile in January.

Some might argue that Glad to be Here may have been best both times he faced Cee Cruiser. He spotted an easy lead to Cee Cruiser in the McFadden and was bucking a potent speed bias in the Preview. With an honest pace and a neutral track - neither of which is guaranteed - Glad to be Here should prove difficult to deny in the Derby.

First Laugh, who showed the way before fading to third in his local debut in the Preview, poses a bold threat on the lead, but had the bad luck to draw the outside post and may have to be hustled to get to the front. Rider Bob Webb will have the delicate task of using enough horse to make the lead while retaining enough to withstand Glad to be Here's late charge.

Lacenter Flash and French Season, the fourth and fifth finishers, respectively, in the Preview, rate as realistic upset threats with modest improvement.