04/07/2004 12:00AM

'Santiam' wins first in style


PORTLAND, Ore. - Jockey Melissa Peery got her second Portland Meadows stakes win and trainer Vannessa Hunt got her first in Saturday's $20,000 Oregon Derby, but Santiam Top Jazz topped them both.

The nine-furlong Oregon Derby was the first win of any kind for Santiam Top Jazz, making him the first maiden in 53 years to win the track's premier race for 3-year-olds.

The win, however, was no huge surprise. Santiam Top Jazz is a half-brother to last year's Oregon Derby winner, Glad to Be Here, and he nearly won last month's 1 1/16-mile Preview Stakes despite breaking in the air and weaving about in the lane.

"I liked him a lot better for this race, mainly because of the way he had run in the Preview," said Hunt. "I figured he had to learn something from that race, and he trained better for this one. We had a more experienced rider for this one, too, so I thought he had a lot going for him."

So did the fans, who made Santiam Top Jazz the 4-1 fourth choice in a field of nine. Even so, he needed a lot of help from Peery to get to the wire in a very slow 1:57.43, a half-length ahead of Mothers Day Bandit, another maiden and the longest shot on the board, at 45-1.

"He's still pretty green," Peery said of Santiam Top Jazz. "I thought he was in danger of losing interest after he got outrun early, and he wanted to snake around in the lane. I was mainly trying to hold him together, and that was why I was hand-riding him late. But, gosh, what a talented horse! Vannessa had done a nice job of getting him to this point, and he'll be even better when he matures."

Peery won the first stakes of her career in the February 21 McFadden Memorial aboard Northern Baquero, who ran fourth in the Oregon Derby. She said her husband and agent, Steve Peery, made the decision to switch mounts Saturday.

"He figured that Northern Baquero won the McFadden with a perfect trip, and this horse outfinished him despite a tough trip in the Preview, so this one gave us our best chance to win," she said. "It's always tough to take off a horse who has been good to you, but I'm glad Steve made the right choice."

Hunt said owner Burle Oakley will decide the next assignment for Santiam Top Jazz, who is by He's Tops. Oakley has now bred the last two Oregon Derby winners from his stakes-winning mare Jazzi Pink. He also bred Jazzi Pink, who won the Goldblatt Stakes here, and her dam Hot Lemonaid, a multiple stakes winner at Portland Meadows.

Carden duo finishes one-two

Local fans got a taste of Texas-style Quarter Horse racing Friday, when trainer K. C. Carden shipped A Toast to Kc and Dusty Corona here from Manor Downs to run one-two in the $18,630 Professional's Choice Claiming Challenge at 350 yards.

The race was the first of 10 qualifying heats, to be run at 10 different tracks, for the $75,000 Professional's Choice Claiming Challenge Championship at Sam Houston on Nov. 6. A horse must have run for a claiming price of $7,500 within the last 12 months to be eligible for a qualifying heat, which explains why Carden vanned his horses 2,387 miles to race at Portland Meadows.

"The 12 months were almost up for A Toast to Kc, and I didn't want to run him for $7,500 to make him eligible again, so this race was his only chance to qualify for the championship," said Carden. "When I realized that, I loaded up the horses and drove straight through. We only stopped to water the horses and get diesel, and it took us almost two days. Thank the Lord that he won, because it would have been a long ride home if he had gotten beat."

Under regular rider Cory McDaniel, who flew in from Texas to accept the mount, A Toast to Kc defeated Dusty Corona by half a length in 17.85, just .19 off A Search of Fame's track record. It was his 12th win from 26 starts, and the $9,408 winner's prize boosted his earnings to 73,949.

The Carden-trained, Jackie Sessions-owned entry was just the second choice at 9-5. The 6-5 favorite was Heza Cash Request, whose six-race winning streak included a victory over A Toast to Kc and others in last year's $75,000 Professional's Choice Claiming Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos.

Heza Cash Request broke awkwardly and lugged in throughout en route to a seventh-place finish, then was disqualified and placed eighth for interfering with a rival.

Handicapping contest is back

Portland Meadows will stage another of its popular handicapping contests on April 17-18. The entry fee will be $100, and all entry fees will be returned as prize money, with 45 percent of the pool going to the winner. The winner will also earn the third of four available spots on the track's team for the 2005 National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Contest in Las Vegas.