10/05/2007 12:00AM

Lethal Grande highlights opener

EmailPORTLAND, Ore. - Lethal Grande will head a field of eight older sprinters in the $20,000 Inaugural Handicap on Saturday when Portland Meadows opens its 61st season of racing. The 60-day meeting runs through March 11, 2008.

Earlier this year, track owner Magna Entertainment announced it was seeking a buyer for Portland Meadows, which lost money last year, in order to eliminate debt. While the future of Portland Meadows is unsettled, the track has spent more than $1 million preparing a space for instant racing machines, which offer wagering on replays of unidentified races and would give purses a boost if they are installed. The Oregon Racing Commission has approved them, but the state attorney general declared them illegal. Magna has said it plans to contest that decision in court.

The venerable Lethal Grande, who is now 8, is the richest Oregon-bred on record with $401,663 in earnings from 25 wins in 77 starts. He has notched 4 wins from 10 starts this year, including three scores on the $35,000 optional claiming level this past summer at Hastings Park. Lethal Grande, who has been trained by Tom Longstaff since being claimed for $32,000 in August of last year, is coming off a sharp second in a mile test for $30,000 claimers at Northlands Park on Sept. 16. Longstaff has named last season's leading rider, Joe Crispin, to ride at 123 pounds.

Second in the weights for the six-furlong Inaugural at 122 pounds is Gold Lad, who will be ridden by former Emerald Downs leading rider Kevin Radke. Gold Lad, a 6-year-old son of Gold Fever from the barn of trainer Jim Fergason, was claimed by owner David Green out of a win against $25,000 claimers in his most recent outing, which came at Emerald Downs on Sept. 21. That was Gold Lad's fifth win from seven starts this year, all at Emerald, and it brought his record to 11 wins from 34 starts for $140,603 in earnings.

Fergason will also saddle Corvallis Dee, who will tote 120 pounds with David Lopez up. Corvallis Dee, a 6-year-old son of Slewdledo who races for Art McFadden, won 2 of 5 starts last summer at Emerald Downs. He scored in his seasonal debut against $32,000 claimers at six furlongs and again at a mile in his most recent outing, against $25,000 optional claimers on Sept. 2. Earlier in his career, Corvallis Dee won the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at Emerald.

Also dangerous is the streaking Mystic Wood, who won his last three starts at Emerald.

Saturday's 12:35 first post will remain constant throughout the meet.