12/20/2001 12:00AM

Respect for sire Stately Wager comes late

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Fit to Bet's victory in last weekend's Os West Oregon Futurity was, among other things, a vindication for his sire, Stately Wager, who died last year without having gained the favor of local breeders.

Dr. Jack Root, whose wife, Cookie, trains Fit to Bet for the couple's son, Brad, had high hopes when he brought Stately Wager to stand at his Oakhurst Farm in Newberg, Ore., in 1998. A then 10-year-old son of Bet Big and Regal Departure, by Regal and Royal, Stately Wager was a Grade 2 stakes winner of nearly $500,000 from 16 wins in 103 starts.

"I'm one who thinks we ought to be breeding for soundness, so I really liked that he had raced through the age of 9," said Jack Root. "Not everyone believes as I do, but Stately Wager was also a top-class 3-year-old and I thought he would be reasonably popular at stud."

Stately Wager got just four foals in his first crop, which includes Fit to Bet. His second crop, now yearlings, numbers only eight. And his third and final crop consists of just six or seven weanlings.

"He never caught on," conceded Root. "He had a solid pedigree, but it wasn't really fashionable, and I guess that's why he didn't get more mares. He was one of my all-time favorite horses, though, and I'm delighted to see that he's getting runners."

Three of Stately Wager's four 2-year-olds raced on Saturday's Oregon-bred Day program, and two emerged with black type. The maiden filly Stately's Choice ran second to Absolutism in the Jane Driggers Debutante at 14-1, then Fit to Bet, who went off at 7-1, came from far back to upset the heavily favored Lethal Grande by a 8 1/2 lengths in the one-mile Futurity, which was run in 1:44.20.

"We weren't planning on winning because we knew Lethal Grande would be awfully tough, but we weren't really surprised, either," said Root. "We always liked Fit to Bet and I was terrifically disappointed after he went unplaced in the Bill Wineberg Stakes, but our rider, Felipe Valdez, told me not to worry. He said, 'Wait till they go long,' and I guess he was right."

'One of those days' for Sonnen

Lethal Grande's loss at 3-10 cost owner and trainer Pat Sonnen not only the $15,681 winner's share of the Futurity's $28,510 purse, but a $15,000 bonus for completing a double comprising the OTBA Sales Stakes and the Futurity. It was the finishing touch on a brutal day for Sonnen, who also saw his Tomtom Tommalice run second at 7-10 to Lovers Son in the Oregon Sprint Championship and his Lammy run fourth at 6-5 in the Debutante.

"It was just one of those days," said Sonnen's assistant, G.D. Khalsa.

"Nothing went quite the way we wanted, but those things happen in racing. Everybody has bad days. We just picked a bad time to have ours."

Sonnen reported that Lethal Grande, who posted a pair of impressive wins in sprint stakes here, departed on Monday for Golden Gate, where he will be trained by Brent Sumja.

Absolutism surprises trainer, not public

While fans were surprised by the defeat of four of the five favorites in stakes offered on the Oregon-bred Day card, the lone winning favorite, Absolutism, surprised her trainer. Absolutism, the more-fancied half of a Jonathan Nance-trained entry that went off as a slight choice over Lammy in the Debutante, did not come up to the six-furlong stakes in quite the way her trainer had hoped.

"I tried to work her in a tongue tie and she wouldn't work," said Nance. "Then I tried to work her in back wraps and she wouldn't work. I finally got her to work in company, but she went five furlongs in 1:08 and the other horse outworked her by seven lengths.

"I wasn't too optimistic after that experience, but she got a perfect trip in the Debutante and she ran her heart out. She's a funny horse."