01/16/2002 12:00AM

Rider shift may offset class drop


PORTLAND, Ore. - Tomtom Tommalice, who was upset as the heavy choice in the Oregon Sprint Championship on Dec. 15, will attempt to make amends when he returns to action against seven rivals in Friday's feature at Portland Meadows, a 5 1/2-furlong affair for $6,250 claimers.

Tomtom Tommalice began his current campaign with a sharp win in the five-furlong Inaugural Handicap on opening day, then ran a creditable third to Chinquapin Charlie in the one-mile Thanksgiving Handicap. Off those efforts, Tomtom Tommalice was bet down to 7-10 in the six-furlong Sprint Championship, but could not hold off the late surge of Lovers Son and finished a neck back in second. Owner and trainer Pat Sonnen is dropping Tomtom Tommalice to the lowest level of his career on Friday, which should ensure that he will again go favored.

Nevertheless, there are two factors that may inspire caution for Tomtom Tommalice's potential backers. First, he has registered just one slow half-mile work in the month since his last race, a 55.40-second drill on Jan. 6. Secondly, Juan Gutierrez, who rode Tomtom Tommalice in his three previous starts at the meet, lands on a rival for Friday's feature.

Gutierrez will ride Silent Launch, who has been in especially sharp form. He downed $5,000 foes in November, when he was claimed by owner and trainer Ron Haasl, then came back to post solid seconds against $8,000 and $10,000 rivals in December. In the first of those efforts, he was beaten just a length by Lovers Son, who came back to defeat Tomtom Tommalice.

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