11/24/2004 1:00AM

Oval undergoes overhaul


PORTLAND, Ore. - There was a steady diet of five-furlong races at Portland Meadows on Saturday and Monday, but at least there were full slates. Last Friday night, only three races were run.

The jockeys declined to ride after last Friday's third race, citing unsafe track conditions. To be more specific, the riders felt the surface was uneven. It got to be uneven, by most accounts, because of a procedure that was performed earlier in the week.

On the recommendation of the Oregon Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association's racetrack committee, the track maintenance crew "washed" the track by moving the material from side to side with a grader and running water trucks over it.

"The problem was that there was too much silt in the track, and horses were running down on it whenever it rained," said trainer Jim Fergason, a member of the HBPA's racetrack committee. "It happens because the sand is fine and it breaks down, and it gets mixed up with all the manure and horse hair that gets dropped on the track. The track really needs new sand, but washing it will work. It just takes some time for the track to settle back down."

The track was closed for workouts on Saturday morning while the track crew tried to pack the track tighter, and the riders felt the surface had improved enough by about 8:30 a.m. that they could commit to riding the entire card on Saturday afternoon. They felt that the worst part of the track was from the six-furlong chute to the five-furlong pole, however, so they asked that all races be shortened to five furlongs. Monday's races were also shortened, but all races are expected to be run at their scheduled distances on Friday.

Bullishdemands wins despite cutback

The cutback from six to five furlongs probably didn't affect the results of Saturday's $10,000 Lassie Stakes, at least regarding the first two finishers. Bullishdemands, who was still a maiden after missing by a nose in her debut on Oct. 30, outdueled Janet Wineberg winner One Fast Cowgirl to win by a three-quarters of a length in 1:00.81, and it was nearly six lengths farther back to the third finisher, Cool Blast. The 4-5 favorite, Scatin Satin, was forced to take up on the backstretch and checked in sixth in the field of eight.

"I really don't think the shorter distance helped us," said Gene Davis, who trains Bullishdemands for owner Mike Radovich. "In fact, it probably hurt. I really think this filly will be better the farther she goes, and I'm looking forward to routing her."

Bullishdemands, a Washington-bred daughter of Bull Inthe Heather and Demanda, by Capote, was purchased by Radovich and his wife Elaine at the 2003 WTBA winter sale for only $1,300.

"My wife loves Bull Inthe Heather, so when we saw this filly selling so cheaply we thought it was a good opportunity to get one," said Radovich. "She is really bred to go long on both sides of her pedigree, so it is kind of a bonus to have her win at five furlongs."

Davis said he didn't hesitate to try Bullishdemands against stakes runners despite her relative inexperience.

"She doesn't act like a green filly," said the trainer. "She acts like a total professional. She'll do whatever you want her to do."

Davis wanted Bullishdemands to stalk the pace on Saturday, but rider Shawna Barber called an audible after the filly broke on top.

"She was running easily, so I didn't see any reason to get in her way," said Barber. "I really felt like she was in control of the race from the beginning. She just seemed like the best horse."

Zip the Bright set for big try

Zip the Bright will be trying to reprise his victory in last year's Thanksgiving Handicap when he heads a cast of 12 in Friday's renewal of the mile stakes, and trainer Henry Miller Jr. has done his best to bring him into the race the same way as a year ago.

"Last year I brought him down from Hastings and prepped him in the Inaugural Handicap," said Miller. "This year I brought him down a little later and prepped him in an allowance race. He is coming into it pretty much the same, but I actually like his schedule a little better this year. He is at his best when he can run his races three weeks apart, and that is just about what it will be on Friday."

Miller plans to give Zip the Bright a break after the Thanksgiving Handicap, but he wants to put him back into training in time to contest the $10,000 Governor's Speed Handicap on March 19 and the $40,000 Portland Meadows Mile on April 9.

"Last year I gave him all winter off and brought him back at Hastings," said Miller. "He is a much better horse over this track, though, so it makes sense to adjust his schedule. He really, really likes this surface, so I want to give him as many chances to run over it as possible."

Roberts folds

Trainer Tom Roberts doesn't like the local surface as much as Zip the Bright, so he sold the eight horses he brought here less than two weeks earlier and went home to Idaho.

During his brief stint at Portland Meadows, Roberts, who won five training titles at Longacres, won with 5 of his 6 starters and ran third with the other.

Roberts said he plans to put several young horses he bought in Kentucky into training at Emerald Downs when that track opens for training on Feb. 1.