12/13/2001 12:00AM

Sonnen's barn could dominate Oregon Day


PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon-bred Day, which will be held for the eighth time at Portland Meadows on Saturday, has become the focal point of the season for many Oregon horsemen, but nobody has concentrated on the event's five stakes more than owner and trainer Pat Sonnen.

Sonnen has bred, claimed, and trained for Oregon-bred Day since its inception in 1994, and he won the rich Oregon Futurity with Slews Onry Won in 1998. The trainer is poised to eclipse his past successes on Saturday, however, as he will saddle the odds-on favorites in three of the stakes.

Lammy, who has had easy wins in the Lassie and the Janet Wineberg since being claimed for $12,500 in August at Emerald Downs, is clearly the one to beat in the six-furlong, $7,500-added Jane Driggers Debutante at six furlongs. Homebred Tomtom Tommalice, who won his sixth local stakes when he captured the Inaugural Handicap here on opening day, will be a strong choice over a small field in the $7,500 Oregon Sprint Championship at six furlongs.

Lethal Grande, also a homebred, will likely be the shortest price on the card when he shoots for his third straight stakes win in the $26,010-added Os West Oregon Futurity at a mile.

"It's a lot of pressure to send out three heavy favorites on the same day, and I'm sure we'll be plenty nervous," admitted Sonnen's assistant, G.D. Khalsa. "Really, though, the horses haven't given us any reason to doubt them. All three of them worked last week, and they all went super. They are at the top of their games, and it's going to take a huge effort for somebody to beat any one of the three.

"Our main worry at this point is that one or more of our horses will get sick on us. There is a lot of virus going around right now, and none of these horses have caught it yet."

To guard against the possibility of Lethal Grande getting sick at the worst possible time, Sonnen and Khalsa will enter the promising maiden Badcopnodonut in the Futurity as well. That will give the stable a chance to win the Futurity's rich prize if something goes awry with the favorite, but the strategy carries a distinct risk.

As the winner of the OTBA Sales Stakes, Lethal Grande is in line to collect a $15,000 bonus if he completes a stakes double in the Futurity. That bonus will go down the drain if he finishes second to his stablemate.

"That possibility has occurred to us, and it's not so farfetched," said Khalsa. "Badcopnodonut has a lot more talent than he has shown, and he is really going to appreciate the added ground. Lethal Grande should get a mile as well, but he is probably going to be a better sprinter in the long run.

"It's just that he is so good now, so far ahead of the rest of the 2-year-olds on the grounds, that it's hard to imagine him getting beat if he runs his race."

Nance: 12 starters for 8 races

Trainer Jonathan Nance will saddle the most horses on Oregon-bred Day, as he nominated seven runners to the day's five stakes and five more to three starter handicaps for Oregon-breds. Even so, he is far from certain to walk away with a win.

"I'm firing my best shot, but I could very easily get blanked," he said. "I've always geared my program to Oregon-bred Day, but this year I'm a little behind with most of my horses. Hurricane Rylie is my best horse, but she is only about 85 percent right now and I'm not sure if I want to run her against the 3-year-olds in the Oregon Hers on Saturday or against the older fillies and mares in the City of Roses on Sunday. Both races are a mile, so it's a question of whether I want to run her against Free Falling in the Hers or against Primadonna Poppy in the City of Roses. They are both razor sharp, and I'm not sure Rylie is ready to beat either of them.

"My best shot is probably with Absolutism in the Debutante, but that means catching Lammy and nobody has been able to go with Lammy early. The more I look at these races, the more I think it's going to be pretty easy to get skunked."

* In conjunction with Oregon-bred Day, the OTBA will hold its annual stallion season auction from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the turf club on Saturday. Seasons will be up for auction to 48 stallions, with former Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup ranking as the headliner.