10/04/2007 11:00PM

Opening day just the beginning for Gold Lad

EmailPORTLAND, Ore. - Trainer Jim Fergason, who has won five training titles at Portland Meadows, had a highly successful if abbreviated meet at Canada's Assiniboia Downs this summer. Fergason won with 11 of 54 starters and earned $74,982 in purses in less than three months.

He also lost or sold all the cheaper stock he took to Canada, so he dropped by Emerald Downs on the way home to replenish the barn. One of the several shrewd claims he made at Emerald in September, Gold Lad, will run on Sunday's opening-day program in the $20,000 Inaugural Handicap at six furlongs.

Fergason claimed Gold Lad, a 6-year-old son of Gold Fever, on behalf of owner David Green from a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for $25,000 claimers on Sept. 21. Gold Lad came from far back to win that race, which was nothing new. Gold Lad won 5 of his 7 outings at Emerald this year, and he has won 11 of 34 career starts, to go with his 5 seconds and 4 thirds.

"He's the kind of horse you like to have in your barn," said Fergason. "He fires his shot just about every time, and he is usually right there at the finish. I actually would have claimed him earlier, but I was waiting until I knew for sure that this meeting was a go. As soon as it was official, I jumped in and took him."

Fergason hopes that Gold Lad will prove to be a stakes-caliber horse at this meet.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be competitive in the sprint stakes, and I hope to stretch him out to a mile," Fergason said. "If everything goes smoothly, we'll point him toward the Portland Meadows Mile at the end of the meeting."

Fergason will also saddle Corvallis Dee for the Inaugural, but that will be a one-time occurrence.

"He'll run under my name in the Inaugural, then I'll send him back to Bud Klokstad in California," said the trainer. "They plan to run him at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate this winter."

Corvallis Dee, a 6-year-old who races for owner Art McFadden, has been trained by Klokstad throughout a career that has netted $143,558; he has 7 wins in 26 starts. Corvallis Dee won 2 of 5 starts at the recent Emerald meeting, including a victory in $25,000 optional claiming company in his last start, on Sept. 2.

Cookie Root takes over for son Ben

Among the missing at this season's Portland Meadows meeting is Ben Root, who was among the leading trainers here for the past half-dozen years. Root, who is coming off an excellent Emerald Downs stand at which he won 18 races with 130 starters, will race 15 of his horses, mainly 3- and 4-year-olds with conditions, at Turf Paradise this winter. Most of his horses, and all of his Oregon-breds, will remain behind under the care of his mother, Cookie Root.

"I just felt the timing was right to try to get my foot in the door somewhere else," said Ben Root. "Fortunately, my mom is available to train the horses at Portland Meadows. She'll have 30 to 32 horses there, including eight unstarted 2-year-olds, so she will be busier than I will."

Root's parents, Jack and Cookie, operate Oakhurst Farm in Newberg, Ore. Both have put in long stints as trainers in the past.

"We were having a little discussion about who has had the most success at training a couple of weeks ago, so we looked up our records," Ben Root said. "That was a mistake, because it turned out my mom had a better win percentage than either my dad or me."

It was a close contest, though, and all three of the training Roots have done well. Jack Root saddled 264 winners from 1,927 starters for a 13opercent win rate before retiring from training to concentrate on his veterinary practice. Ben Root has thus far saddled 224 winners from 1,417 starters for a 15 percent win mark. And Cookie Root has sent out 113 winners from 672 starters for a win rate of 16 percent.

While Root is excited about the opportunity to train in Arizona, he had mixed feelings about leaving his native Northwest.

"I know I'll miss Portland Meadows and all of my family and friends there," he said. "I'll also miss the good 2-year-olds I am leaving behind. I know they'll do well with my mom, though. She's a little more of a horse whisperer, and the horses love her."

Smarty Deb on site for Breeders' Cup

Smarty Deb has arrived safely at Monmouth Park and will soon begin preparing for the $2omillion Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1o1/16 miles on Oct. 27, according to trainer Doris Harwood. She said she also brought Margo's Gift, who will run in the $250,000 Favorite Trick for 2-year-olds at six furlongs on Oct. 26.

"The horses have settled in nicely and are eating well," Harwood said Friday morning. "They'll go to the track tomorrow."

Smarty Deb, a daughter of Smart Strike who races for Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms, is undefeated in four starts and is coming off an authoritative win over males in the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. She needs to be chosen by a selection committee to run in the Juvenile Fillies, but she has strong credentials.

Margo's Gift, a son of Polish Gift who races for Ken Alhadeff's Elttaes Stable, won 4 of 6 starts at Emerald, including three stakes, and owns a six-furlong clocking of 1:08.40.

Ricky Frazier will ride both horses in their races at Monmouth Park.