10/21/2003 11:00PM

Lethal Grande puts division on notice: He's the one to beat


PORTLAND, Ore. - Any horse with designs on handicap stakes at the just-begun Portland Meadows meet should check the name on his bridle. If it doesn't say "Lethal Grande" he should probably think again.

That was the apparent conclusion to be drawn from Saturday's six-furlong Inaugural Handicap, which the 4-year-old Lethal Grande won in an authoritative performance.

Under jockey Danny Boag, Lethal Grande sat behind pacesetters Proud Louie and Sullivanitis through a quarter mile in 22.50 seconds, moved to engage those two while racing three wide around the turn, and powered away through the stretch to score by more than three lengths in 1:11.73.

"He was just too good for them today," said Boag after the race. "Once I got him out of the gate and into the clear, I knew it was pretty much over."

It was the fourth win from seven tries at Portland Meadows for Lethal Grande, an Oregon-bred who has spent most of his 29-race career in California. Lethal Grande launched his career here as a 2-year-old in 2001, winning two stakes and finishing second in the Oregon Futurity while racing for his breeder, owner, and trainer, the late Pat Sonnen.

Lethal Grande returned last spring to win the Governor's Speed Handicap in a track-record 1:09, and he finished second in the Portland Meadows Mile racing for his current owner, Mike Pollowitz, and trainer, G.D. Khalsa, who had been Sonnen's assistant when Lethal Grande was 2. The Inaugural launched his third campaign at Portland Meadows, and his connections hope it will be his longest.

"Our plan is to keep him here right through the meeting," said Khalsa. "He obviously fits well with the stakes horses here and he loves this track, plus he is eligible for the Oregon-bred bonus. It makes sense to keep him here."

Khalsa said his tentative plan is to run Lethal Grande in the one-mile Thanksgiving Handicap on Nov. 28 and the six-furlong Oregon Sprint on Dec. 13, then to give him a break before bringing him back for another crack at the March 20 Governor's Speed and the April 10 Portland Meadows Mile.

"We'll see if I can keep him sharp that long," said the trainer. "Actually, I don't think he was as sharp for the Inaugural as he was last spring, so he has some room to improve. He think he won the Inaugural because he was the best horse, but he can do better."

Longshots in second, third spots

While Lethal Grande won the Inaugural at even money, Star of Rehaan got up for second at 36-1 and Zip the Bright was along for third at 85-1 in a field of 11. The $2 trifecta payoff was $1,158.80.

Star of Rehaan, incidentally, was the first starter for new trainer Jacqui Navarre, who served as exercise rider and assistant trainer to her partner, Steve Fisher, for many years.

Another new trainer, Diane Garrison, won Saturday's fourth race with her second starter, McAllister Creek. The trainer and her husband, Terry Garrison, have campaigned horses under the banner of Savario Farm for a number of years, and Diane served as assistant to trainer Dave Doutrich last season at Emerald.

Gutierrez off to hot start

Defending riding champion Juan Gutierrez started the new season off with a bang, winning four of the nine races run on Saturday and coming back to win Monday's feature aboard last season's horse of the meeting, Back Street Gal.

Gutierrez, who has ridden at Northwest tracks for only four years, finished third in the rider standings at the Emerald Downs meeting, which concluded Sept. 22, then took a month off to let several minor injuries heal before he resumed riding here.

"I really didn't gallop many horses before the meeting, so I'm grateful to be able to get so many good mounts," he said.

Early numbers look positive

Jeff Grady, the general manager of Portland Meadows, said he was encouraged by business during the first two days of racing.

The track handled $120,913 on Saturday's nine-race card, when $76,303 was wagered in-state and $44,610 was wagered at out-of-state locations. That was a 4 percent gain over the $115,984 handled on opening day last year, when 10 live races were run.

Monday afternoon's nine-race card drew $176,080 in wagering, with $46,929 wagered in-state and $129,151 being bet out-of-state. The first Sunday card at last year's meet featured an 11-race card that drew $113,790 in wagering, with about $62,000 bet in-state and about $51,000 wagered out-of-state.

The rule of thumb is that it takes five out-of-state dollars to offset the loss of one in-state wagering dollar, and that ratio was slightly exceeded.

"It was a good showing for our first Monday card, especially when you consider we only had nine races," said Grady. "We're still adding out-of-state wagering sites, so there is a good chance our Monday handles will grow as we go along."