03/27/2003 1:00AM

Proud Louie tries easier payday

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Inaugural Handicap winner Proud Louie, who was nominated for Sunday's $10,000 Governor's Speed Stakes, will opt instead for a more certain payday in Saturday's featured six-furlong sprint for $6,250 claimers at Portland Meadows.

Proud Louie began the meeting with back-to-back wins in the Inaugural and in a $12,500 claiming race, but he has since suffered four straight heartbreaking losses to allowance and higher claiming foes. Proud Louie, a 7-year-old front-runner who has won 15 of 41 career starts, endeared himself to his backers by pinning his ears and stretching out his neck when challenged in the stretch, but he was outfinished by less than a length in each of his four recent defeats.

"He wants to win so badly that I really hate to overmatch him, and the Governor's Speed was coming up awfully tough," said trainer and part-owner Jonathan Nance. "He deserves a little easier spot."

Saturday's feature is no doubt softer than the Governor's Speed, but it is still a competitive race. Among Proud Louie's six challengers are Dear John, who is coming off a strong win under the same conditions on March 15, when he came from well off the pace to win by a half-length in 1:11.61.

Two others, Petty's Way and Our Sleep Robber, have won at the $6,250 level at the current meet. Another pair, Scaffolds Legacy and Me No Toad, have twice beaten lesser competition at the meet. The final entrant, PJ's Alarm, is coming off a sharp third behind Dear John on March 15, when he was beaten just over two lengths.

The feature is the eighth of nine races set to begin at 1 p.m.

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