01/21/2004 1:00AM

Sweet Road the one to catch


PORTLAND, Ore. - Sweet Road will be out to make amends when he takes on five other older sprinters in Friday's best race at Portland Meadows, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance for non-winners of three races.

Sweet Road, a 5-year-old son of Cisco Road who races for trainer Vernon Fergason, disappointed as the 7-5 favorite here under identical conditions on Dec. 27. On that occasion, he dueled for the early advantage with Wings of Hope and yielded late to both Jesse Gee and Les Crime to be beaten just over four lengths in 1:06.15.

Neither Jesse Gee nor Les Crime was entered back in Friday's feature, but Wings of Hope returns and again figures to give Sweet Road a fight for the lead. Wings of Hope, a 4-year-old by End Sweep, led throughout to win over maiden special weight company here in November, then finished third for a $10,000 tag before hooking up with Sweet Road through a half mile in 46.16 in his most recent try. He faded to finish seventh of eight that day, but came back with a bullet half-mile drill in 48.40 last Saturday and could be set for an improved effort.

Peter Spats might be the one to benefit most if Sweet Road and Wings of Hope engage in another exhausting speed duel. Peter Spats, a late-running son of Peterhof from the barn of leading trainer Jim Fergason, came from far back to post a 1 1/4-length score over $5,000 claiming rivals at six furlongs when last seen here on Dec. 27. Neither the cutback in distance nor the move into allowance company would appear to be to his advantage on Friday, but he could surprise with the right pace scenario.