06/24/2004 11:00PM

Northwest Attitude's form confusing

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AUBURN, Wash. - Northwest Attitude, the 119-pound highweight for Sunday's $50,000 Tacoma Handicap for 3-year-olds at one mile, is the kind of horse who makes handicappers hesitate.

Judge him on his last race, a track record-equaling victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Pepsi Cola Handicap on May 31, and he seems a tempting overlay at about 7-2. Judge him on his previous dozen outings, which include 10 losses to modest maiden claiming company, and he seems a ridiculous underlay at the same odds.

Pam Terry, the wife, assistant, and chief exercise rider for trainer Rick Terry, makes a persuasive, if not altogether flattering case that Northwest Attitude should be evaluated on his last race alone. "He has always had a lot of ability," she said. "It's just that he is so big and stupid that it has taken this long for the light to come on."

Terry, who owns Northwest Attitude in partnership with Pamela Thomas, said that getting Northwest Attitude to the point where he understands what to do on the race track has been a trial. "I've galloped him since he first came to the track, and I remember thinking, 'God I hate this horse, but he sure has a beautiful way of going.' Then every time we ran him he would run okay, then he would come back and tear the hotwalker down. We just knew he wasn't giving us the effort he was capable of, and that was very frustrating."

Northwest Attitude obviously got his act together for the Pepsi Cola, which he won by a length over Pool Boy in 1:13.80, but he ran so much better than he had ever run before that bounce theorists are sure to predict a regression.

"There is always some concern that a horse will knock himself out with a big effort like that, but Northwest Attitude has never acted like he was knocked out," said Terry. "He came back and worked six furlongs in 1:11.40, and that was really a five-furlong workout. He just galloped out the final furlong. He seems about as sharp and happy as he can be."

Others may be concerned about Northwest Attitude getting the mile distance, especially because he faltered badly in his only previous mile try here last September. Terry isn't among them. "I've always felt he would be much better going long," she said. "When I ride him, he has such a wonderful, long, loping stride that it feels like he could run forever. He just feels like a route horse."

Some horses have stamina but become upset when asked to load into the gate in front of the crowd, but Terry said that is the least of her concerns. "The one good thing about him taking so long to break his maiden is that he has lots of racing experience," she said. "He truly is unflappable. I guess when you have an I.Q. of minus 5, nothing really bothers you."

On the Ave undefeated heading into the Tacoma

Among the most attractive alternatives to Northwest Attitude in the Tacoma is On the Ave, who is undefeated after beating maiden special weight company at 5 1/2 furlongs on May 2 and downing a tough field of allowance runners at 6 1/2 furlongs on May 30.

On the Ave, a son of Avenue of Flags who sold for $30,000 as a yearling, is the polar opposite of Northwest Attitude in terms of precocity, but trainer Frank Lucarelli said he shares at least one trait with his rival. "He is one of the most mellow horses I have ever been around," said Lucarelli. "We actually have to get after him to get him to work in the mornings. The good thing about that is that I don't think we'll have any problem getting him to relax and stretch out. He is fast, but he's not speed-crazy by any means, and nothing upsets him."

On the Ave is the sixth foal from the 100 percent producer Go Gaiter, and four of her first five foals have won around two turns. Two of them, Mia Rolls and Rolls Aly, were stakes-placed. "I trained Mia Rolls and I'm familiar with the family, so I always expected On the Ave to be a router," said Lucarelli. "I wasn't shocked that he won first time out because I thought he was a good horse, but I was shocked he was so quick. I still think he'll be better going long, though. I'm pretty excited about him."

Baze story bound for silver screen

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Earl Wallace was on hand to soak up the atmosphere at Emerald Downs last weekend. Wallace, who won an Oscar for his work on "Witness," which starred Harrison Ford, is working on a screenplay for a movie based on the life of rider Vicky Baze.

Baze, who began her career as Vicky Aragon, was the only female jockey to win a riding title at Longacres (she won two), and she currently ranks as the third-winningest female rider in the country with 1,769 wins.

Fitterer retires from DRF after 32 years

Phil Fitterer, the general manager of the Seattle office of Daily Racing Form and a vice president of the company, retired on Friday after 32 years of service. Fitterer began as a call taker at Longacres in 1972, but became editor of the Northwest edition of Daily Racing Form a year later. He was promoted to general manager of the Seattle office in 1985 and was made a vice president of the company in 1996.

Fitterer, who is 63, and his wife, Marian, a retired teacher, plan to travel and visit their daughters Franki in San Diego and Mary in Boston.