02/14/2003 1:00AM

Magna gives Portland Meadows new life


PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Meadows got a new lease on life late last week when Magna Entertainment Corp., through its wholly owned subsidiary MEC Oregon Racing Inc., reached an agreement to purchase the long-term operating rights for the track.

MEC Oregon Racing Inc. is in the second year of operating Portland Meadows under a sublease arrangement that was to have run out after three or four years, and it now has the right to operate the track indefinitely.

Under the agreement negotiated by Magna attorney Scott Daruty and Portland developer Tom Moyer, who took control of the track in 2001, the operating rights will automatically be extended for one year each year that MEC Oregon Racing Inc. stages at least one day of live racing.

"I learned in law school that there is no such thing as a perpetual lease, but I think this is about as close to a perpetual lease as you can get," said track president Art McFadden. "We basically have the right to stay here forever."

The completion of the transaction, which includes the purchase of a portion of the 126-acre site upon which the track is situated, remains contingent upon the satisfactory completion of MEC's due diligence investigation, as well as approval by Magna's board of directors, McFadden said. He said another announcement will be made after that process has been completed.

Magna earlier had planned to attempt to build a new track in Oregon after its sublease on Portland Meadows expired, and the company still holds options on land near Wilsonville, Ore. Last week's announcement effectively preempted those plans, but it apparently secured the future of racing in Oregon.

Sabertooth restores order

When a Washington-bred wins the Grade 3 Longacres Mile, the most prestigious race in the Northwest, he becomes an odds-on favorite to be named the state's horse of the year. Edneator, who won the Mile for trainer Jim Penney in 2000, was outdone for that honor by the exceptional filly Rings a Chime, a Grade 1 stakes winner - but the Penney-trained Sabertooth restored the tradition at last weekend's annual awards banquet at Emerald Downs.

Sabertooth, a now 5-year-old son of Petersburg and Exit's Baby who races for breeder Robert Sparling and Bruce Sparling, was named Washington-bred Horse of the Year for 2002 on the strength of his upset at 17-1 in the Mile, a performance that was confirmed with a smashing win in the 1 1/16-mile Washington Championship. He was also honored as the state's top handicap horse.

Other equine awards went to Bub, as champion 2-year-old; Youcan'ttakeme, as champion 2-year-old filly; Bold Ranger, as champion 3-year-old; No Turbulence, as champion 3-year-old filly; and Slewsbox, for both champion older filly or mare and top sprinter.

* Hartley Kruger of Spokane was elected the new chairman of the Washington Horse Racing Commission at a meeting on Thursday. Kruger replaces Pat LePley, who resigned last month.

* The commission also approved the use of Lasix at the discretion of the trainer and the attending veterinarian, eliminating a requirement that the horse must bleed before having access to the medication.

* The Oregon Racing Commission will meet Thursday at the Portland State Office Building at 800 NE Oregon Street in Portland. Among the items on the agenda is the selection of a new executive secretary to replace Steve Barham, who left in October.