07/23/2004 12:00AM

Gratitude Attack a shrewd buy for new owner

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AUBURN, Wash. - Ross McLeod is new to owning horses, but he certainly seems to be going about it in the right way.

McLeod is the chief executive officer of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., the parent company of Hastings racetrack in Vancouver, and he understands good business principles. When he decided to begin buying quality horses to race in the Northwest, McLeod hired top trainer Steve Bryant, gave him an adequate budget, and turned him loose.

Bryant's first purchase for McLeod was the 3-year-old Tobe Suave, who won his first start under his new colors in the July 1 Burnaby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hastings, then came back to run third in last Sunday's Jim Coleman Province Handicap. His second purchase, the 4-year-old filly Hanselina, won her Northwest debut in Hastings' Senate Appointee Handicap on July 11 and was scheduled to run back in the Boeing Handicap on Saturday at Emerald Downs.

Bryant's third pick, the 4-year-old Gratitude Attack, will make his first start in the Northwest as the 120-pound co-highweight in Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles.

Gratitude Attack, a Kentucky-bred son of the Blushing Groom stallion Hazaam, is coming off back-to-back outings against allowance company at Monmouth Park, in which he earned matching Beyer Speed Figures of 100 with daylight wins at a mile and 1 1/16 miles.

"We were very fortunate to buy him when we did," Bryant said. "The horse he beat in his last race, Presidentialaffair, came back to win the Skip Away at Monmouth in track-record time. If we had waited another week, we certainly would have had to pay more for him, and we might not have been able to buy him at all."

Gratitude Attack arrived at Bryant's Hastings barn this month and prepped for the Mt. Rainier last Sunday with a five-furlong drill in 59.20 seconds, the best of 47 workouts at the distance.

"I caught him galloping out six furlongs in 1:11," said Bryant. "It was a very impressive workout, and it should set him up for a big effort."

Bryant is not pleased that Gratitude Attack, who has never won a stakes, will have to concede weight on Sunday to such multiple stakes winners as Roscoe Pito, who was named British Columbia's horse of the year last season, and the defending Mt. Rainier champion, Poker Brad. But that doesn't mean he doesn't like his horse's chances.

"We bought him with the Longacres Mile in mind, so that tells you what we think of him," said Bryant. "I expect him to run very well."

Demon Warlock shares top weight

Gratitude Attack will share highweight honors with Demon Warlock, who earned his impost with an extremely game head victory over Poker Brad in the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap on June 20. Trainer Terry Gillihan could have run Demon Warlock back in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap on July 4, but he opted to wait for Sunday's engagement.

"I just thought it was too quick back after such a hard race," said Gillihan. "He really gave it his all that day, but he always runs hard. He is one of the toughest horses I have ever been around."

Gillihan claimed Demon Warlock out of a win for $25,000 in May at Golden Gate, and he has since seen Demon Warlock post three wins, by a nose, three-quarters of a length, and a head, while ascending to the stakes ranks. His Budweiser Emerald victory was his first in two tries at a mile, and the Mt. Rainier will mark his first attempt at 1 1/8 miles.

"I'm fairly confident he'll handle the distance," said Gillihan. "He only got beat a couple of lengths in his first race at a mile. That was in a stakes at Golden Gate, and he had ankle chips removed right after that race. He won his second race at a mile, so we'll see if he can handle another furlong. He's certainly bred for the distance on the sire's side of his pedigree, but I'm not sure about his female family."

Demon Warlock's dam, Witchery, was a stakes winner of five races and $125,000, but all of her wins came at sprint distances. She had five siblings who combined to win 14 route races, however.

Mr. Makah seems more mature

The sleeper in Sunday's field could be Mr. Makah, who appears to be improving rapidly since the addition of plastic goggles, which protect the eyes from flying dirt, to his equipment three races back. Mr. Makah, a 4-year-old son of Majesterian, is coming off a fast-finishing third in the Independence Day Handicap.

"He really ran a pretty professional race that day," said trainer Bonnie Jenne. "The goggles have made him more willing to sit behind horses and take dirt, so they have definitely helped. I hesitate to say it, but maybe he is finally maturing as well. He was so green for so long, but he did everything right in his last two races."

Jenne has at times been exasperated by Mr. Makah's immaturity, moreso because his full brother, Washington Cup Classic winner Colony Lane, was a professional from his first race. Nevertheless, she says she believes Mr. Makah's potential justifies all the patience she can muster.

"He has as much raw talent as any horse I've had," she said. "If the real Mr. Makah shows up on the right day, watch out."