02/19/2011 2:11PM

Tomcat Jake rises from humble beginning to make Oregon Derby

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Tomcat Jake has been a pleasant surprise for retired dentist turned trainer Ryland Harwood.
Tomcat Jake, a Seattle Shamus homebred, could give Harwood the biggest win of his career Monday when he takes on four rivals in the $35,000 Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders Derby at Portland Meadows.

Tomcat Jake was supplemented to the derby, just as he was to the Bill Wineburg on Dec. 12. he finished second in the Wineburg, splitting Shamundi and Midda’s Gold Touch, two of his rivals in Monday’s one-mile race.

Tomcat Jake has won 3 of 5 starts, including the one-mile McFadden Memorial in his last start on Jan. 19. He pulled clear to win by six lengths in a wire-to-wire effort.

“It looks like he likes a mile,” said Harwood, who also owns and bred his budding star.

It has been an interesting trip to the Derby for Tomcat Jake.

“When he was born, he was drop-kicked in the head by his dam and broke his jaw,” said Harwood. “He looks like a Quarter Horse. When we tried to sell him, we couldn’t find buyers who offered more than $500.”

Tomcat Jake is the first foal of the True Confidence mare True Kitty Cat. Harwood sold her last year.

Once Tomcat Jake began training and got to the races, he proved that looks aren’t everything, so Harwood has leased the mare back and is breeding her to Grindstone this year.

“I give a lot of credit to Chuck McCormick, who works on the gate here,” said Harwood.

McCormick gallops horses for the barn and was involved both with breaking Harwood’s runners and working them in the gate.

“Last May, I asked Chuck to let him go, and that’s when we realized we had a runner,” said Harwood. “He could spot some of his workmates four or five lengths, and it seemed like he passed them within 100 yards. We never had any setbacks with him, and he picked everything up quickly.”

Tomcat Jake was 9-1 when he won his debut.

“We knew if he’d break and not do anything silly early he’d win,” said Harwood. “But when you looked at him in the paddock, he was going against some tall, rangy colt, and he didn’t look like he could run 440 yards.”

Tomcat Jake was favored in the McFadden and looms the likely favorite Monday, even though he stays on his left lead all the way around the track.

“This little horse is a power horse,” said Dr. Harwood.

* In race 2, multiple stakes-placed Chick Power heads a field of six in the $13,000 Oregon Ms. for 3-year-old fillies going one mile.