10/25/2002 12:00AM

Search of Fame loves it here

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PORTLAND, Ore. - In Search of Fame, who has dominated Quarter Horse racing at Portland Meadows like no runner since Destiny Drummer two decades ago, will have a new distinction when he makes his yearly debut in Sunday's $6,000-added Autumn Handicap at 350 yards.

In Search of Fame, 6, will enter the race with a six-figure bankroll, having inched over the barrier in his last start of 2001 with a second in a stakes at Boise. He now boasts $100,570 in earnings from 19 wins in 34 starts.

"That's quite an accomplishment for a horse who has raced almost exclusively in the Northwest," trainer James Glenn Jr. said. "I can't think of too many others who have done it. There just aren't many big purses for Quarter Horses in the Northwest, so a horse has to stay good for a long time and win a lot of races. In Search of Fame has done that. We've tried to pick his spots and give him rest when he needs it, and as a result he has stayed sound. I really think he is still as good as he ever was."

Impressive as his overall record is, In Search of Fame's record at Portland Meadows is phenomenal. He won his first 11 starts over this track before twice being edged by Rompun Stompin late in 2000, and he has since run off five straight wins here. That makes 16 wins from 18 local starts, with his losses coming by a neck and a nose.

"There is no question that this is his favorite track," Glenn said. "I'm not sure whether he loves this surface or he just doesn't like to ship that much, but his best races have come here. I feel good about starting him out here this year, although I always feel he is a little vulnerable in his first start of the year. That is really my only concern."

In Search of Fame will carry 128 pounds, which equals the highest weight assignment of his career.

"He is a big, stout horse and I just don't think weight is a factor for him," Glenn said. "If he gets beat, I'll have to think of another excuse."

Hearings held on Playfair license

On Wednesday, the Washington Horse Racing Commission concluded two days of hearings on Eric Nelson's application for a license to operate Playfair in Spokane and is expected to deliver a written decision on the application in one to two weeks.

Nelson, a Las Vegas businessman who operates Wyoming Downs and four card rooms in Washington, is seeking to conduct at least 40 days of racing per year at Playfair beginning in 2003. The Spokane track hasn't operated since 2000, when its former operator, Lilac City Racing Association, ran out of money.

Nelson was sharply questioned on the validity of his financial projections, especially predictions that the track's handle would increase significantly over the levels reached in 2000. He responded by telling the commission that Lilac City conducted racing on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights in an unsuccessful effort to attract out-of-state wagering. Nelson wants to race Friday nights and weekend afternoons, and he argued that that schedule would attract much greater ontrack and in-state wagering.

Darrell Weeks, the commission's security director, questioned the details of Nelson's security plan, but told the commission that Nelson has an unblemished record in both his personal and business dealings.

Left unresolved was the question of whether Nelson could be licensed without a contract with eastern Washington horsemen, but that question could become moot. Nelson met with members of the Organization to Preserve Horse Racing in the Northwest - which represents the horsemen - at the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting. The two sides hope to hammer out an agreement next week.

The commission can approve or deny the application from Nelson, who has prepaid $300,000 in rent for the racing facility to owner Jack Pring, with whom he signed a lease-to-buy agreement in May. It could also approve the application contingent on various conditions being met. Neutral observers at this week's hearing felt the third option is most likely.