11/30/2007 12:00AM

Gold Lad's win gives trainer confidence for Mile

EmailPORTLAND, Ore. - When trainer Jim Fergason and owner David Green claimed Gold Lad for $25,000 at Emerald Downs in September, they knew they were getting a tough and consistent sprinter. They also hoped that Gold Lad could develop into a candidate for the $30,000 Portland Meadows Mile on March 10, and he took a big step toward fulfilling that hope here Monday.

Lining up against most of the best middle-distance runners on the grounds in an invitational handicap at a mile and 70 yards, Gold Lad lagged far behind a hotly contested pace before launching a big late move that carried him to a half-length victory over a very game Brave Hearted in 1:43.80.

"The five-horse speed duel up front helped a lot, but it was good to see him run that well around two turns," Fergason said. "Now I can point him toward the Mile with a little more confidence. I still think he might be best as a sprinter, but he showed he can go longer under the right circumstances."

Fergason was alone in the winner's circle after Gold Lad's win. That was because Green, who had been the trainer's partner in Gold Lad and several other horses, abruptly signed his interest in all of those horses over to Fergason on Nov. 6. Not coincidentally, that was a day after the venerable Lethal Grande died on the track after suffering catastrophic injuries to a front leg while contesting another invitational handicap.

"Lethal Grande's death hit David hard," Fergason explained. "He just wanted to get away from the sport for a while. He told me he'll probably get back into the game after some time has passed. He said he got out of it in five minutes, and he could get back in just as quickly."

Green never owned Lethal Grande, who died at the age of 8 as the richest Oregon-bred of all time with $409,788 in earnings.

Fergason, Crispin go on a roll

Gold Lad's win was the start of a remarkable string for Fergason and rider Joe Crispin, who timed the stretch-runner's move.

Fergason came back Tuesday to score 4 wins with 5 starters, taking the third race with Wegota Go Stub, the fifth with Witch Way, the sixth with Sky Harbor, and the ninth with Midways Icknay.

Not to be outdone, Crispin won with 5 of his 6 mounts on Tuesday's card. The rider booted home Wegota Go Stub and Witch Way for Fergason, as well as Penn Cove in the third for trainer Brent Lyons, Stolen Mist in the fourth for trainer Pat Jarvis, and Musical Wine in the featured eighth race for trainer Jonathan Nance.

When the dust settled, Fergason had increased his lead in the trainer standings to 27-19 over Jonathan Nance, and Crispin widened his lead in the jockey race to 47-25 over Kevin Radke.

Juvenile impresses with tetherball skills

Trainer Steve Fisher has an extremely talented 2-year-old in his barn this season, but the colt in question hasn't raced and Fisher doesn't really know if he can run.

The colt is In Your Pocket, a son of Ochoco from the dam of allowance winner Blackies Cuttie who is owned by Portland Meadows bartender Mike Robbins. His game is tetherball.

It seems that each morning Fisher's partner and assistant, Jacqui Navarre, hangs a tetherall from an elastic cord in In Your Pocket's stall for a half-hour and lets the colt hone his skills.

"He's a tetherball star," Navarre said. "Just wait till you see what he can do."

The assistant trainer wasn't exaggerating. Ten minutes of observation revealed that In Your Pocket can bat the ball with his head, strike it with his front feet, and kick it with his hind feet. He can even bounce it off his back and kick it on the way down, and if you show an interest he will grab it in his mouth and strain against the cord to carry it to you at his stall door.

"We often give our horses balls to play with, but we've never had one who enjoyed playing with a tetherball as much as he does," Navarre said. "He gets all wound up, and if I didn't take it away from him, he'd keep at it until he dropped. I guess it's good exercise for him, but I don't know if it will help when it comes time to race."

That time should be just around the corner. Navarre said In Your Pocket has three five-furlong works to his credit and is awaiting his debut.

Residing in the stall next to In Your Pocket is 2006 Portland Meadows Mile winner Charlie's Pride, who is preparing for a comeback after a long absence. Charlie's Pride, who is now 6, has been trained throughout his career by R.G. Pierce, but Fisher and Navarre are caring for him while Pierce recuperates from a stroke.

"We're hoping that R.G. will make it back to the track soon, but in the meantime Charlie's Pride is making good progress," Navarre said. "He has had various physical problems, but he is doing well now and he is almost ready to race. He's a cool horse to be around, and we've really enjoyed having him in our barn."

But can he play tetherball?