01/22/2003 1:00AM

In Search of Fame will not be denied

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PORTLAND, Ore. - In Search of Fame, seeking his 20th local victory from 22 starts, looked like he was headed for an especially tough fight in the Directors' Handicap here last Saturday.

A 7-year-old Quarter Horse, In Search of Fame was meeting Beluga Star, who was coming off two sharp allowance wins, and Slew of Dreams, who came within a half-length of In Search of Fame despite being squeezed back at the start in an allowance race earlier this month. Raise a Sixy had also finished within a length of In Search of Fame in the not too distant past, as had Jacks Honor and First Down Penny. With a highweight assignment of 131 pounds, In Search of Fame was conceding weight to all of them.

In Search of Fame was bet down to 1-5 and did not disappoint his backers. He overcame a rough beginning to win off by 1 1/2 lengths. Raise a Sixy was second, with Beluga Star a neck farther back in third. The 18.02-second clocking was .38 seconds off In Search of Fame's own track record for 350 yards.

"Today he just got stronger with every stride," said rider Don Sandoval, who has never lost in four tries aboard In Search of Fame.

In Search of Fame races for The Victory Group, which sounds like a confederation of high-powered owners. In fact, it's just Larry Campbell, who bought out his brother Dave a couple of years ago. In Search of Fame was the first horse the Campbell brothers had ever owned. To date, he has earned $112,380 from 23 wins in 38 outings.

"He'll go next in the 440 Yard Championship," on March 30, said trainer James Glenn Jr. "We have been talking about stretching him out to 870 yards, but now I think we'll put that off for a while. We're having a lot of fun running him short, so we're not in any hurry to change things."

Though he paid a paltry $2.40, In Search of Fame again provided a pleasant surprise for those who backed him across the board. In his allowance win earlier this month, he paid $3 to show. On Saturday, he paid $4.80 to place.

Governor stalls on new chairman

Washington Gov. Gary Locke is in no hurry to replace Pat LePley, who resigned from his position of chairman of the Washington Horse Racing Commission last week.

"The Governor's office informed us that he does not intend to appoint another commissioner until the current legislative session is over," said Bob Leichner, the commission's executive secretary. "The regular session ends April 27, so until that time he wants the remaining commissioners to elect a new chairman from amongst themselves and proceed with a four-member commission."

Gov. Locke included a proposal to combine the WHRC and the Gambling Commission to form a new Department of Gaming in his 2003-2004 budget proposal, while Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen (D-Eatonville) has introduced a bill to eliminate the WHRC and divide its duties between the Gambling Commission and the Dept. of Agriculture.

Sen. Rasmussen's bill, SB5019, has been assigned to the Senate Commerce and Trade Committee. That bill and Gov. Locke's proposal are opposed by racing interests in the state.

Some familiar faces return

The upcoming Emerald Downs meeting, which begins April 19, is expected to see the return to Northwest racing of several of the area's former major players. Director of racing Grant Holcomb reported that trainers Vann Belvoir and Bill McMeans, who have raced in the Southwest in recent years, intend to race at Emerald this season. Holcomb also said that British Columbia native David Cross Jr., who trained 1983 Kentucky Derby winner Sunny's Halo, will bring eight to 10 horses to race at Emerald.

Among the returning jockeys will be David Neusch, who was the leading rider at the 1998 Emerald meeting. Neusch will be represented by agent Mike Delnick, who will also have the books for Jose Alferez and Frank Gonsalves.

Gonsalves, who was the leading rider at Emerald in 1997, rode in Colorado last summer. Gonsalves is currently sidelined with a neck injury sustained in a spill at New Mexico's Sunland Park last Saturday, but suffered no broken bones and is expected to return to riding well before the Emerald meet opens.