04/01/2004 12:00AM

Two live maidens in Oregon Derby

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Two-year-old maidens sometimes win stakes races at Portland Meadows, as Belle Fourche did in this year's Jane Driggers Debutante, but 3-year-old maidens rarely do. And a maiden has never won the track's premier race for 3-year-olds, the $20,000 Oregon Derby, which will be run for the 53rd time on Saturday.

Either Santiam Top Jazz or Dig That Rhythm just might be the first maiden to do so.

One reason to suppose so is that this local crop of 3-year-olds has yet to produce a standout. Among them, only the sidelined Houston Shuffle has won more than a single stakes. Another reason is that Santiam Top Jazz and Dig That Rhythm are unusually talented maidens.

Santiam Top Jazz, who is by the promising young sire He's Tops, is a half-brother to last year's Oregon Derby winner, Glad to Be Here. Santiam Top Jazz netted just one second from four starts in sprints, but he woke up dramatically when sent long for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Preview Stakes on March 13. Dismissed at 28-1, Santiam Top Jazz seemed to lose his best chance when he broke in the air from the outside post in a field of 12, but amazingly he made the lead in the stretch before yielding only to the winner, Might E Man.

"The extra ground made a big difference," said trainer Vannessa Hunt. "I really think he might have won with a better trip."

Hunt trains Santiam Top Jazz for breeder and owner Burle Oakley, who also bred and owns Glad to Be Here. She said Oakley thinks Santiam Top Jazz is very similar to his half-brother, though it has taken him longer to come to hand.

"For his first two starts in November he hauled in from Burle's farm, and he just wasn't mentally ready to race," said Hunt. "He started staying at the track in December, and that seems to have helped him a lot. He's getting more mature and more confident all the time, and I think that is the main reason he is running better."

Dig That Rhythm digs that distance

Dig That Rhythm, a son of former juvenile champion Rhythm who races for owner-breeders Dave Ferguson and Rene Schoop, has been something of a puzzle to trainers Gary Mandella and Nick Lowe. Mandella trained him through three starts against maiden special weight company in Southern California. Lowe trained him before and after his California campaign. Both trainers feel the colt has a great deal of ability but he has yet to show it in the afternoon.

Dig That Rhythm finished sixth of 12 runners going six furlongs on dirt in his Hollywood Park debut in November, then 10th of 12 going 1 1/16 miles on turf in his second start at Hollywood. Moving to Santa Anita, he ran eighth and last in a 6 1/2 furlong test on turf.

Mandella then returned Dig That Rhythm to Lowe, who saddled him the day he ran a distant but fast-finishing second to Crimson Design in a very fast maiden special weight race going 5 1/2 furlongs on March 20. Based on that race, Lowe feels the solution to the puzzle posed by Dig That Rhythm will be to send him long on dirt.

"I've always felt he wants to go long, and that was obvious in his race here," said Lowe. "He broke on top, but the track was cuppy that day and he struggled early and fell back to last. He finally caught stride at the seven-sixteenths pole and finished really strong. Even though he was beaten by more than six lengths at the wire, he was in front before they hit the turn."

Dig That Rhythm will go long on dirt for the first time in the derby, and Lowe feels the conditions will suit the colt ideally, especially if the track is firm.

"He is a big, heavy horse with a long stride, and he really needs a track he can get hold of," he said. "He obviously didn't like the grass much, but he has run pretty decently sprinting on dirt and I think he'll be much better with more ground to work with."

Governor signs betting law

Legislation favored by Washington's Thoroughbred industry was signed into law by Governor Gary Locke during a ceremony in Olympia on Thursday.

The new law permits account wagering in Washington, allowing Emerald Downs to collect source market fees on money wagered by Washington residents through advance deposit wagering firms such as TVG and youbet.com. It also permits the state's 21 satellite sites to offer full-card simulcast wagering for the first time, and it eliminates restrictions on the number of days per week and hours per day that pari-mutuel wagering can be conducted.

Though the law went into effect immediately, Emerald Downs simulcast coordinator Chuck Potter said it might take a few weeks before equipment can be obtained and installed to allow full-card simulcasting at satellite sites. He said the first satellite sites to be ready will likely be those in Spokane, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, and Everett.