12/05/2007 1:00AM

Joneses hope luck continues

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - There's rain, and then there's Oregon rain. The hurricane-force winds that ripped the great Northwest this week have threatened to shift the conversation from climate change to Armageddon. Five deaths were reported, towns were flooded, and transportation disrupted from central Oregon to the Canadian border.

"It was a hurricane," reported Marie Jones from her home in Eugene, 100 miles south of Portland. "In the East, they give them names. Up here, we just call them winter storms. But it was a hurricane."

How else do you describe the 100-plus mph winds that played havoc with Oregon coastal towns like Yachats, where Marie and Aaron Jones have a beach house that took the full brunt of the onslaught.

"There was damage to a few roof tiles, but otherwise we were very lucky," Marie Jones said. "And it looks like the storms have passed, so we're planning to be there on Saturday."

There is here, at Hollywood Park, where Aaron and Marie Jones will be represented by Sunriver in Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles. Unfortunately for Sunriver, it looks as if the rain will be following his owners from Oregon. Although far from hurricane strength, storms are poised to hit Southern California beginning Thursday night and last through the weekend.

"I'm not sure he's at his best on soft turf," Sunriver's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said at Hollywood on Wednesday morning. "His race on good turf in the Arlington Million was not bad, but I thought he'd run better than he did in the Canadian International. It's a little puzzling, because an off track was never an issue with his sister."

Pletcher was referring to Ashado, the two-time champion who won the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Breeders' Cup Distaff in the mud. Sunriver, her full brother, came along in 2006 to become a supporting player in the 3-year-old classics, winning the Peter Pan and finishing third in the Belmont. The Joneses bred them both, as well as 2004 sprint champion Speightstown.

"We did sell Ashado and Speightstown as yearlings," Marie Jones noted. "But we kept Sunriver, thinking that a son of Saint Ballado with his pedigree had the potential to make a very good stallion."

So far, as a 4-year-old, Sunriver has made a very effective grass horse, under a variety of conditions. He won the Bowling Green Handicap and was beaten just a head in the Man o' War on firm ground at Belmont. In between those races, he battled The Tin Man on the lead in the Arlington Million and surrendered only in the final stages, finishing fourth and losing by just a length. Then, in the Oct. 21 Canadian International, Sunriver once again pressed the pace, but he gave up sooner than later, splitting the field of 12.

"We figured he'd get his surface out here in the Turf Cup," Pletcher said. "I'd heard that it never rained in California."

Except for right around the Turf Cup. At least a third of its 25 runnings have been presented over some form of wet ground, including the renewals of 2003 and 2004. The all-time slog occurred in 1988 when Great Communicator, fresh from his upset of the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, needed 2:34 2/5 to complete the 12 furlongs.

Sunriver, named for a southern Oregon resort town near Bend, probably would have been better served with a course like last year's, in which Boboman set a stakes record of 2:24.61. Still, if training and robust health make any difference, it would be a mistake to rule him out on Saturday even with some cut in the ground.

"He's feeling good," said his groom, Natalie Velasquez, as she ran a comb through Sunriver's dark bay mane late Wedneday morning. "Almost too good sometimes."

A victory by Sunriver would fit well in the Jones story. Building on the success of Aaron Jones's Seneca Sawmill empire, they have raced champions Lemhi Gold, Tiffany Lass, and Riboletta, as well as a host of West Coast stakes winners.

The Joneses have never won the Hollywood Turf Cup - their Bold Forbes colt Sir Pele tried twice in the early 1980s - but their ties to Hollywood Park run deep, going back to 1974 when their fast filly Miss Musket romped in the Hollywood Oaks and then lost a lopsided $350,000 match race to the East Coast star Chris Evert, owned by Carl Rosen. The owners each put up $100,000 for the winner-take-all event.

More recently, Aaron Jones turned over the management of their Thoroughbred operation to his wife, and Marie Jones has been busy making her own imprint. While her husband was loathe to sell anything they bred, Marie Jones has gone aggressively to market with some of their best yearlings, while maintaining a smaller Jones racing stable than the one trained in the past by such Hall of Famers as Charlie Whittingham, Lazaro Barrera, Neil Drysdale, and Ron McAnally.

"I think she might be a natural at it," Aaron Jones said recently. "And she loves watching them sell. I know you can't keep them all, but I'd still rather own a champion than sell one."

So far, Sunriver is not a champion, but he is definitely a keeper.