02/21/2003 12:00AM

A groom's rehab projects show new racing life

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Sue Douglas loves to rehabilitate horses.

Douglas, who is working as a groom for trainer Gene Davis at Portland Meadows, enjoys the challenge of taking an old gelding whom others have given up on, nursing him back to health and racing fitness, then trying to get him to the winner's circle.

She succeeded in doing just that with Robmeister, a stakes winner in his younger days who won two races for Douglas here three years ago. The small pots for the bottom-level wins hardly compensated Douglas for her months of patient care, but the wins could scarcely have been more gratifying.

Robmeister has long since gone to pasture, but Douglas is still at it. Her current project is a 6-year-old gelding named La Chaiym, whom she has been pointing for the popular Marathon Series, which starts here on Sunday with a $4,000 starter allowance race at nine furlongs.

"I bought him last October, sight unseen, because I liked his name," said Douglas.

The name is a misspelling of the Hebrew phrase "to life."

"I didn't pay much for him, but when I saw him I didn't think I got my money's worth," she said. "He had an old bow and a new quarter crack, and he was about 200 pounds underweight. Really, it was easier to list the things that weren't wrong with him than the things that were."

La Chaiym had won only one of 17 starts for three previous trainers, but he was cut out to be a decent horse. He is a half-brother to Let Bob Do It, who won the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap at Hollywood and was second in the Grade 3 California Derby at Golden Gate, and he has an imposing frame, standing just over 17 hands high and weighing 1,100 pounds.

Douglas set out to help him reach his potential, or at least what was left of it, and she has made steady progress. La Chaiym ran third against $4,000 company when he stretched out to a mile in his third local start on Jan. 19, then returned on Feb. 8 to run an even sixth at six furlongs, a distance far short of his best.

"He is coming around," said Douglas. "His quarter crack is almost healed, and he has gained back all of his weight. I think I can get him to win a race for me if I can get him enough ground, and that's why I've been pointing him for the marathon races.

"We'll see. Even if he doesn't win for me I won't feel like I've been wasting my time. He was an unhappy horse when I got him, and now he's happy. That's a pretty good reward right there."

Jitterbug going longer

Trainer Dick Occhiuto said he is excited about the prospects of Jitterbug, a lightly raced 3-year-old son of Can't Be Slew whom he claimed for owners Dean and Lois Vogt for $10,000 in January. Occhiuto immediately lengthened the stretch-runner out to a mile, and Jitterbug responded by running a strong second to Oregon Futurity winner Glad to Be Here in an allowance race on Jan. 25. He then returned to win another mile allowance last Saturday, drawing off by 3 1/2 lengths over the OTBA Stallion Stakes winner Questionable Road.

"We claimed him because we thought he would route, and now I think he has proven that he can," said the trainer. "I plan to run him next in the McFadden Memorial, which is at 1 1/16 miles on March 2. If he runs well there, I'll run him in the Preview Stakes later next month, and then in the Oregon Derby in April."

Sticking to sprints

Owner and trainer Carol Duby is resisting the urge to put her undefeated I Won't Apollogize on the Oregon Derby trail. I Won't Apollogize, a front-running son of Apollo, captured a maiden special weight race at 5 1/2 furlongs in January and came back to upset Stately Jack Flash in the six-furlong Flying Lark Stakes earlier this month, but Duby isn't inclined to stretch him out farther.

"I won't be trying him beyond six furlongs at this meet," said Duby. "He is a nice sprinter, but at this point he is all speed and he won't rate. Maybe later."

Playfair simulcasting improving

Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash., is off to a solid start with its simulcast operation, which began on Feb. 5. After 10 days of simulcasting, Playfair has handled slightly more than $41,000 per day.

"Things have gone very smoothly, and the handle is growing steadily," said parimutuel manager Ann Gillespie.

"We handled over $60,000 for the first time last Saturday. We projected that we would end up averaging $45,000 per day, but I think it might be closer to $50,000 by the time the meeting starts in September."