07/09/2001 11:00PM

Magna to lease Portland

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Racing at Portland Meadows seems secure for at least the next three years following the announcement late last week that Magna Entertainment has reached an agreement to lease the track from a group headed by developer Tom Moyer that purchased the track last spring.

Magna Entertainment - Frank Stronach's corporation, which operates several tracks, including Santa Anita and Gulfstream - also announced that it had purchased the operating rights to Multnomah Greyhound Park from owner Art McFadden for five years beginning in 2002. The dual acquisitions will give Magna the right to control simulcasting in Oregon throughout the year, as well as to conduct live race meets.

In a prepared statement, Jim McAlpine, president and chief executive officer of Magna, said: "We are pleased to announce our entry into the state of Oregon. We believe our operation of both Portland Meadows and Multnomah Greyhound Park presents a good opportunity for the rejuvenation and expansion of the Oregon racing industry."

Last week's announcement had been anticipated since last April, when Moyer revealed he was negotiating to lease Portland Meadows to Magna for two to three years, the time he expected it would take to get zoning changes in order to develop the property into a business park. Moyer said at that time that Magna intended to build a new track near Wilsonville, about 20 miles south of Portland, and Magna officials later confirmed that intent to the Oregon Racing Commission, though they offered no specific details.

Dick Cartney, executive secretary for the Oregon division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen are enthusiastic about Magna's involvement in Oregon racing.

"I think everybody is relieved and pleased that we have an operator for Portland Meadows, and that the operator has the expertise and resources to be successful," he said. "We've been impressed by the people at Magna in our dealings with them so far, and we're very optimistic about the future."

Magna Entertainment is expected to be granted a license to operate Portland Meadows at a meeting of the Oregon Racing Commission scheduled for July 19. The commission has already conditionally granted Magna dates, Oct. 18 through April 27, for a 2001-2002 Portland Meadows meet.

Strong Credentials, strong race

Three juvenile fillies went into Sunday's Angie C. Stakes at Emerald Downs with unblemished records, and at three minutes to post they all stood at 9-5 in the wagering. A late surge of support made Strong Credentials the 7-5 favorite over Strikes No Spares and Perfect Plan at 2-1. In this instance, the late money was also the smart money.

Strong Credentials, a daughter of Carson City and Northern Hilite, by Vice Regent, disposed of pace rival World of Reason after a quarter mile in 22.40 seconds, then held off a late challenge from Strikes No Spares to prevail by a half-length in a sparkling 1:10.40 for six furlongs. Perfect Plan, who was carried out by World of Reason on the turn, finished 5 3/4 lengths farther back in third, but 13 lengths in front of fourth-place finisher Artic Mist.

"We've always been high on this filly," said Bob McMeans, who trains Strong Credentials for Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms. "I told Jerre before her first race that she might be as good or better than any filly he has ever owned."

That's saying a mouthful, since Paxton has raced local 2-year-old filly champions Flamme, Got You Runnin, Yuma Queen, Firesweeper, and Taste the Passion.

Paxton's Northwest Farms was Washington's leading breeder for 12 consecutive years, from 1984 through 1995, and Paxton himself was often among the leading owners at Longacres. He has been less prominent in recent years, but he has increased his participation in Emerald racing each year the track has been open and he figures to have his biggest impact this year. The owner has several well-bred young horses with McMeans and with trainer Terry Gillihan, who sent out the Smart Strike filly Winning Approach to win her debut against maiden special weight company on Sunday.

"I've got a few more yet to race, but Strong Credentials might be the best of them," said Paxton. "We're just taking it one step at a time with her, but she passed this test pretty impressively. Ten and two isn't a bad time for a 2-year-old filly."

* Although overnight purses at Emerald were cut by an average of 7 percent in May, the practical effect has been negligible. Through last weekend, average daily overnight purse distribution was down only 1 percent from last year, to $72,624. The reason, according to track president Ron Crockett, is that races at the high end of the purse scale have been filling with unusual frequency. Regardless, the purse account is not overpaid, according to Washington HBPA executive secretary MaryAnn O'Connell.