10/20/2005 12:00AM

Training champs won't have it easy


AUBURN, Wash. - Jonathan Nance and Jim Fergason have had the battle for leading trainer at Portland Meadows pretty much to themselves the last five seasons, with Nance winning the title at the 2000-01 and 2004-05 meetings and Fergason winning the other three. Both trainers are back this season with large and powerful stables, but they may have company this year.

One possible challenger is Robbie Baze, who is coming off a productive Emerald Downs meeting, where he won with 30 of 306 starters. Baze got his feet wet here last season, winning with 15 of 106 starters to finish in a tie for eighth in the standings. He figures to be a bigger force at this year's meet, which starts Saturday.

"I've got a full barn of 28 to 30 horses this year, and just about all of them are ready to go," said Baze. "I plan to run here until Emerald starts in April, then I'll split my stable and run some here and some at Emerald. I should have enough starters to make a run at leading trainer. Now they just have to win."

Baze said he has older runner Cleard for Action for the 1 1/16-mile William Kyne Handicap on Nov. 26, the promising 2-year-old filly Thatsthewayluvgoes for the six-furlong Lassie Stakes on Dec. 4, and the Oregon-bred 3-year-olds Palanca and Sea Idol for the His Stakes and Hers Stakes on Oregon Championship Day, Dec. 17. He may even have Slewicide Cruise ready for an appearance toward the end of the meeting.

Slewicide Cruise was named sprinter of the meeting at Emerald Downs in 2004 and won last year's Inaugural Handicap at this track, but he injured a suspensory ligament while winning the Seattle Handicap at Emerald this April.

"I'm planning to bring him to the track in mid-December to train, and we'll see how it goes from there," said Baze. "The vets tell me his suspensory looks really good, so I'm thinking I might get a race into him here before we go back to Emerald."

Another logical contender for leading trainer is Ben Root, who finished third in the standings last season with 37 wins, behind Nance's 48 and Fergason's 47. Root is coming off an excellent Emerald Downs meeting in which he won with 16 of 105 starters, and he is well stocked with horses for this stand.

"I've got 30 stalls and 42 horses, so I'll be running some of them from off the farm," said Root. "The problem is that 20 of my horses are 2-year-olds, and it is tough to get a lot of starts out of 2-year-olds. I'd love to be leading trainer, but a more realistic goal for me is to be the top money-winning trainer."

Root finished second to Fergason in that category here last year, and he again has some horses capable of winning big purses.

"There is a lot of money available for 2-year-old Oregon-breds early in the meeting, and I hope to get my share of that," he said. "I'm pretty high on Cascadians Cuttie right now."

Cascadians Cuttie, a son of Cascadian who races for Larry Faist, won his maiden at the $30,000 level in his second start at Emerald, winning off by nearly 10 lengths after five furlongs in a 57.40, among the fastest clockings by a 2-year-old at the stand.

Root said he also hopes to make some noise in the 3-year-old filly division with My Emy My Amy, One Fast Cowgirl, Gordys Sweet Jordy, and last year's local 2-year-old filly champ, Quatern, who is on schedule to return from an injury in January.

Klokstad back for Inaugural

Trainer Bud Klokstad, who was a regular at this track earlier in his career, will make a rare visit to Portland Meadows on Saturday, when he will saddle Eastern Accent as the highweight and probable favorite for the $10,000 Inaugural Handicap at six furlongs. Klokstad, who has won more stakes than any other trainer in Washington and was recently inducted into that state's hall of fame, last came here to saddle Prodigious for the 2003 Portland Meadows Mile.

Eastern Accent, a 4-year-old son of Eastern Echo, ran three times at the recently concluded Emerald Downs meeting, finishing second twice to Starbird Road at six furlongs before winning a one-mile test for $32,000 optional claimers on Oct. 1.

"He's good now and I'm not going to California this year, so this looks like a good place to get another race for him," said Klokstad. "I'll turn him out after this one."

New first post a big success

Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett said the track's experiment with a 2 p.m. first post on weekends at the just concluded meeting was a success, accounting for more than $100,000 per weekend in additional handle.

"We found we got more attention from the bettors when we started after the Eastern tracks were done and continued past the California tracks," he said. "We'll definitely do that again next year."

Crockett said he has not yet evaluated the effects of the longer 101-day meeting or the late-season experiment with Monday racing.

At a glance: Portland Meadows

RACING SCHEDULE: 80 days, Oct. 22 through May 7; racing Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays; no racing Dec. 24, 25 and 26.

POST TIME: 12:35 p.m. Pacific.

HIGHLIGHTS: Oregon Championship Day, Dec. 17; $25,000-added Portland Meadows Mile, April 8.

ADMISSIONS: Free general admission and Clubhouse seating; $3 per person in Turf Club.


LOCATION: 1001 North Schmeer Road, just east of I-5 in North Portland, Ore.

PHONE: (503) 285-9144

INTERNET: www.portlandmeadows.com