02/04/2004 1:00AM

Mythical Road's win aided by Barber's ride

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Trainer Dick Occhiuto has always appreciated Mythical Road's professionalism and determination, qualities that helped him earn two wins and three stakes placings last year as a 2-year-old.

Those qualities were apparent again last Saturday, when Mythical Road broke through for his first stakes win in the $10,000 Flying Lark Stakes at six furlongs. He needed a little something extra to get up in time to win by a half-length over the pacesetting Keep on Turkin, however, and Occhiuto didn't hesitate to give credit where credit was due.

"Shawna Barber won that race for us," said Occhiuto, referring to the gelding's rider. "Our horse had been off since December 13, and there is no question he was a little short on conditioning, but Shawna wouldn't let him hang. The last sixteenth of a mile, it was all rider. I can't tell you how impressed I was with the way she rode. She really made the difference. I'm adamant about it."

Barber, a mainstay in the local jockey colony for the last decade, rode last summer and fall in New Jersey to be near her fiance, Magna Entertainment executive Chris Dragone, whom she will marry on Feb. 15. She did not begin riding at the current Portland Meadows meet until December, but she has since won with 11 of her 69 mounts while giving a number of rousing rides.

Barber did some of her best work in the Flying Lark, but a decision she made before the race was equally important. She elected to ride Mythical Road instead of Freedom Fair, an extremely impressive debut winner who went off as the 3-1 second choice to 6-5 favorite Houston Shuffle in the Flying Lark.

"They are both nice horses, but Mythical Road is a lot more seasoned, and he is such a hard tryer," she said. "It wasn't that hard of a decision. I really like Mythical Road."

Occhiuto said Mythical Road, who was second to Tom Won in the one-mile Oregon Futurity in his only route attempt, will again be stretched out for the 1 1/16-mile McFadden Memorial on Feb. 21, the 1 1/16-mile Preview on March 13, and the 1 1/8-mile Oregon Derby on April 3.

"I've always felt he was a better router than a sprinter," Occhiuto said. "Now we'll find out for sure."

Heza Dapper Dandy is stakes winner

It was much the same story in Friday night's The Memorial for 3-year-old Oregon-bred Quarter Horses at 350 yards. Heza Dapper Dandy, who had run third in both the Evergreen Futurity and the Oregon-bred Juvenile here last year at 2, won his first stakes with a length score over the favored Judges Effort in 18.60.

"He has always been a nice, consistent horse," breeder and owner Don Conway said. "He just kept chipping away at them, getting a piece of every purse, until he finally got the biggest piece."

Heza Dapper Dandy drew the disadvantageous rail post for the Evergreen and broke through the gate before the start of the Juvenile, but got a clean trip from the outside post in Friday's field of six. A vigorous ride from jockey Tad Skaggs also helped.

"He slipped and swerved a couple of jumps out of the gate, but other than that everything went smoothly," trainer Baxter Andruss said. "I guess that was all it took."

Those with long memories, or a rare copy of an old press guide, may recall that The Memorial honors the memory of three deceased Quarter Horse trainers. Separate stakes were named for the three - Everett Limbeck, Leon Defoe, and Robert Boekenoogen - until the early 1990's, when the races were consolidated into The Memorial.

Big Al T in top shape

Big Al T isn't the best horse on the grounds, but he may well be the sharpest after scoring another runaway win over $6,250 claimers in Friday's fourth race. Big Al T, a 7-year-old son of Man From Eldorado, was claimed by trainer Jonathan Nance for $3,200 on Dec. 6 and has since won all three of his starts by a combined margin of a little more than 15 lengths

"I just can't believe how good he has gotten," Nance said. "I did find something wrong with him and I fixed it, but I didn't expect him to respond the way he has. He reminds me of Capable Quest."

Capable Quest ran off six straight wins for Nance at the 2000-2001 Portland Meadows meeting, when he rose from the $5,000 claiming ranks to stakes company. His win streak was broken when he was beaten a head by Chantilly Lad in the Governor's Speed Handicap.

* Monday's nine-race live card handled $657,311, a record at the current meeting and the most wagered on a live program here in nearly 20 years. All but $49,624 of that total came from outside the state.