03/17/2004 1:00AM

Happy mistake led to Might E Man's win

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Trainer Ben Root credits a barn mistake for Might E Man's 8-1 upset in last Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Preview Stakes, the final prep for the $20,000 Oregon Derby on April 3.

"The last time we worked him it was a typical morning at our barn, meaning we were frazzled because we had too much to do, and we forgot to put his blinkers on," Root explained. "He was just a bear - much more aggressive than he had been before - so we left the blinkers off for the race. He had been hanging in his races, and I've got to think that going without blinkers was the biggest reason he didn't hang this time."

It wasn't the only reason for Might E Man's improved performance, however. A hotly contested pace and a heady ride from jockey Nate Chaves, filling in for an ailing Joe Crispin, also played important roles in the victory by Might E Man, a 3-year-old son of Baquero and the State Dinner mare Excellent Fettle.

Chaves, who has been galloping horses at Emerald Downs, had never heard of Might E Man until agent Steve Peery called him in Seattle on Saturday morning.

"Steve said he was putting me on the winner of the stakes, so I came right down," Chaves said.

The jockey arrived in time to tune up with a late-running victory aboard Scooters Knight in the day's sixth race, then reprised those tactics in the Preview.

"I saw five or six horses going for the lead, so I decided to sit until the top of the lane," he said. "The speed was backing up by then, and my horse really kicked it in. I really couldn't have drawn it up any better."

According to the program, Might E Man races for his trainer's mother, Cookie. In a truer sense, he races for Root's father, breeder Jack Root.

"My dad absolutely loves this horse, and he always has," said the trainer. "He's the reason we couldn't geld this horse, and the fact that the horse is a stud is the reason we put blinkers on him in the first place. We didn't think he was focused enough to go without them. Anyway, my dad is ecstatic that he won."

Lynn Meech of Longview, Wash., was pretty happy that Might E Man won as well. Meech won a drawing on Feb. 21 for honorary ownership of Might E Man, which entitles him to the equivalent of one-quarter of the horse's earnings through the remainder of the meet. Meech picked up $320 when Might E Man ran third in the McFadden Memorial on the day of the drawing, and earned another $1,600 on Saturday. Should Might E Man repeat in the Oregon Derby, Meech's share will be $3,200.

'Top Jazz' has room to improve

Another to look for in the derby is the Preview runner-up, Santiam Top Jazz, who was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths despite breaking from the outside post in the field of 12 and racing greenly. Santiam Top Jazz, a lightly raced maiden, is by He's Tops out of Jazzi Pink, the dam of last year's derby winner, Glad to Be Here.

Magna buys infield golf course

Portland Meadows president Art McFadden reports that track operator Magna Entertainment Inc. has acquired the golf course in the track's infield, which had been operated for many years by Donna Jensen, daughter of track founder Bill Wineberg.

McFadden said Magna did not extend the lease for the golf course, by mutual agreement with Jensen. He said Magna is negotiating with Jensen for purchase of the course's equipment and will take over operation of the course on April 1. Assistant director of operations Greg Bloemke will manage the course for Magna.

"This will simplify things when we want to extend workout hours, especially in the summer," McFadden said. "In the past we had to clear those things with Donna, and she was always great about waiting until we were done before opening the course. There was never a problem, but now we don't have to make the phone call."

* Jockey Becky Abernathy suffered a broken ankle in a training mishap at Windy Ridge Training Center early last week and will sit out the remainder of the meeting.