10/13/2004 11:00PM

Slewicide Cruise a whole new horse

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Slewicide Cruise, the highweight and certain favorite for Saturday's six-furlong Inaugural Handicap, has come a long way since he raced at Portland Meadows last fall.

At that time, Slewicide Cruise was a promising but unaccomplished 3-year-old. He collected his maiden win against allowance company in his first local outing, then ran a creditable third to older rivals Zip the Bright and Lethal Grande in the Thanksgiving Handicap before being turned out for the winter.

Since then, Slewicide Cruise has become a star. Trainer Robbie Baze first noted the transformation when Slewicide Cruise ran a close second at 19-1 to the crack sprinter Willie the Cat in the 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap at Emerald Downs in May.

"That was when he showed me he could run with the best horses in the Northwest," said Baze. "At the time Willie the Cat was unbeatable, and I was impressed that Slewicide Cruise finished within a length of him. He also beat Demon Warlock a head that day, and in retrospect that is probably even more impressive."

Demon Warlock went on to be named Emerald's horse of the meeting, and Slewicide Cruise went on to win three races and more than $60,000 at Emerald en route to sharing sprinter-of-the-meeting honors with Willie the Cat, whom he defeated in the six-furlong Chinook Pass stakes on Washington Cup Day, Sept. 19.

Slewicide Cruise got only a brief respite before gearing up for Saturday's engagement with two dissimilar half-mile drills under Debbie Hoonan, who will ride him in the Inaugural.

"He has a tendency to lollygag if you don't get after him, and that's what he did the first time I worked him here," said Baze. "He went in 53 seconds. The next time I sent Debbie out with a whip, and he went in 48.60. Debbie couldn't believe the difference."

Baze feels fans who remember Slewicide Cruise from his races here last fall will be impressed by the way he has developed.

"He is bigger, stronger, and more mature," said the trainer. "He is also sounder. Last fall he was having to cope with tender shins, and couldn't train him the way I would have liked. He is just a much better horse now."

Baze reported that owners Tom and Margo Boening obtained Slewicide Cruise, a son of Slewdledo and the multiple stakes winning mare Cruisin' Two Su, in an unconventional manner.

"They bought him off the Internet," said the trainer. "They were looking for an investment property, and they came across an ad for a yearling. They called me because I had an ad in the Emerald program and I checked him out, then they bought him."

Slewicide Cruise came to Baze as a yearling in December of 2001, but he didn't make his first start until August of last year.

"He was in training for about 100 days as a 2-year-old, but his knees never closed and I had to turn him out," Baze recalled. "Then he shin-bucked at 3 and he kept nicking himself up in his stall, so it seemed to take forever to get him to the races. He was the first horse the Boenings had ever owned, and they had to pay bills for almost two years without getting anything in return. I've got to give them a lot of credit, though. They were always willing to be patient, and they never complained. I'm just really glad he worked out for them in the end."

Stalls filling for opening day

Though the movement of horses onto the local backstretch has been slowed by the construction of the track's new waste water disposal system, director of racing Jerry Kohls estimated that 750 of the track's 820 stalls would be occupied by opening day. Kohls said the mainstays of last season's meeting, including leading trainers Jim Fergason, Jonathan Nance, Ben Root, and Delmer Webb, have all returned with large stables.

Trainers who will stabled on the grounds for the first time, or for the first time in several years, include Len Kazmerski, Bonnie Jenne, Mike Jones, George Colello Jr., and Mark Gibson. Gibson has served as the starter at Emerald Downs for the past five seasons.

Kohls said the most significant change in this season's racing program is the addition of a new open race for 2-year-olds. The $20,000 Juvenile Mile will be run on Dec. 26. It joins the $10,000 Columbia River Stakes on Nov. 27 as the only open races on a stakes schedule for 2-year-olds that is heavily weighted toward Oregon-breds.