11/14/2001 12:00AM

Lethal Grande's score sets up bonus payday


PORTLAND, Ore. - Lethal Grande's surprisingly easy score in the $7,200 Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders Association Sales Stakes Saturday at Portland Meadows put owner and trainer Pat Sonnen in position for a potentially nice payday on Dec. 15, when the Os West Oregon Futurity will be run at a mile.

If Lethal Grande completes the Sales Stakes-Futurity double, Sonnen will collect a $15,000 bonus in addition to the winner's share of the Futurity's $26,010 purse.

"We've been offering the bonus since 1998 as a way to promote our sale," said Ursula Gibbons, the OTBA's executive secretary. "It's funded by the proceeds from our annual stallion season auction, which we began in 1997. We've built up quite a nice pot now, and we'd like to see somebody win the bonus. It has never been done."

Sonnen thinks Lethal Grande, a half-brother to the trainer's multiple stakes winner Tomtom Tommalice, might be the first.

"We put him in training in July with the Sales Stakes in mind for him," he said. "We thought if he could win the Sales Stakes he'd have a nice chance for the bonus, because he really should be better going long. He's not as fast as Tomtom Tommalice, but he has a lot longer stride. Once he gets going, he can really cover the ground."

Lethal Grande, a son of Corslew who sold for $3,600 at last year's OTBA sale, got going pretty quickly on Saturday. He broke on top under Juan Gutierrez and widened throughout to win by nine lengths over runner-up Gammagoat Kid in 59.80 seconds, becoming the first horse at the meet to crack the one-minute mark for five furlongs.

It was the third stakes win at the young meeting for Sonnen, who is tied with Jim Ferguson and Martin Kenney for leading trainer with five victories. It is a remarkable record for a man who began training only a little over two years ago. But Sonnen routinely deflects the credit to others.

"That's because I don't do anything," he insisted. "My assistant, G. D. Khalsa, does most of the work. And when G. D. and I can't figure something out we ask my California trainer, Brent Sumja, for advice.

"I'm really not at the track that much because I have a plumbing business and a wholesale car business to run. I have between 30 and 40 horses now, and I've got to keep working to feed them."

With luck, however, Lethal Grande will help out substantially with the feed bills.

Missy Muffet never looked back

Sunday's $8,800 Diane Kem Handicap for fillies and mares was loaded with speed, with six of the nine contestants having been on the lead in the majority of their starts. It was astonishing then that 16-1 shot Missy Muffet was able to separate herself from the pack in an opening quarter-mile of 22.40 seconds.

"I rode her in Grant's Pass, so I knew she was fast," jockey Bobby Webb said on after the race. "But I didn't realize she was that fast until today."

It's possible, of course, that some of Missy Muffet's more highly regarded rivals simply let her go on the theory that she would come back to them. If that was their strategy, it was misguided. Missy Muffet, the lone 3-year-old in the field, increased her one-length lead to four after a half mile in 46.84 seconds, and never slackened en route to a 6 1/2-length victory over the even-money favorite, Canadian invader Actxotic. The final clocking was a a meet-fastest 59.27 seconds for five furlongs.

One observer who wasn't amazed by the performance was trainer L. Sam Howard, who guided Missy Muffet to three straight wins last spring before she was sent to Southern California, where she ran a pair of seconds in four starts.

"She ran big for me last season, so I was expecting her to run big again," Howard said. "I really don't know what happened to her in California, but I see she was racing against Quarter Horses in one of those races and she went a mile against Santa Anita allowance runners in another. She fits a lot better here, and I'm just happy to have her back."

Howard said Missy Muffet, an Oregon-bred daughter of Cisco Road who races for Chris Galpin's Butte Crest Ranch, will return to statebred 3-year-old filly company for her next start, in the Oregon Hers on Oregon-bred Day, Dec. 15.

"She just beaten the best older mares on the grounds," Webb said. "Won't she look kind of tough on Oregon-bred Day?"