01/20/2005 1:00AM

Two vital racing days lost to ice storm

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PORTLAND, Ore. - It was brutal at Portland Meadows last weekend, and the weather was only part of the reason.

Okay, it was a big part.

One of the ice storms that occasionally plague Portland came barreling down the Columbia River gorge early Saturday morning, and it didn't loosen its grip on the city until late Sunday afternoon. Freezing rain encased cars and roadways alike, so most fans couldn't have made it to the track even if live racing had been offered. It was impossible to race because the track was frozen solid.

Those horsemen who were able to make it to their barns were unable to do much besides feed their horses and those of others who were stuck at home. Only a few dared to put their horses on hotwalkers for fear of having them slip and injure themselves. Any more vigorous kind of exercise was simply out of the question until Monday, when the temperatures rose and racing resumed.

The two days of live racing that were lost were the third and fourth of the scheduled 80-day meeting. Portland must hold 80 days of live racing in order to conduct simulcasting the rest of the year.

Two earlier lost dates, one due to an electrical problem and the other to unsafe track conditions, will be made up as part of the track's revamped schedule, which now calls for live racing every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday through April 24. It's unclear, however, how last weekend's lost days of racing can be made up.

Director of racing Jerry Kohls said an announcement regarding further adjustments to the racing schedule will be made later.

Stakes purses cut

Portland Meadows and the Oregon division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have agreed to cut purses for the remaining stakes races on the schedule by $51,500.

The move is a first step toward dealing with a deficit in the purse account which had been expected to reach $450,000 by the end of the meeting. That deficit is a result of an 18 percent decline in instate handle on both live and simulcast races during the current meeting.

Kohls said all remaining $10,000 stakes for Thoroughbreds will be reduced to $7,500. In addition, the McFadden Memorial will be reduced from $11,000 to $9,000, the Goldblatt will be reduced from $10,000 to $8,000, the Oregon Derby will be reduced from $20,000 to $15,000, and the Portland Meadows Mile will be reduced from $40,000 to $20,000.

That still leaves an estimated shortfall of nearly $400,000 in the purse account, but the track's operator, Oregon MEC Inc., will cover $200,000 of that amount. Kohls said the track will ask the Oregon Racing Commission for an allotment from racing's share of the interstate wagering hubs based in Oregon to cover the remainder of the deficit, but if that request is denied purses will have to be cut by approximately 15 percent.

Last year, the ORC granted $182,000 in hub funds to balance the track's purse account. The commission called that a one-time allocation, however.

Two top trainers suspended

Leading trainers Ben Root and Robbie Baze were each given 15-day suspensions after horses from their barns who won races on the Dec. 27 card tested positive for triamcinolone.

Triamcinolone, a form of cortisone sold under the trade name Vetalog, is a Class 4 drug in Oregon, which recognizes 5 classes of prohibited drugs, with Class 1 drugs being the most serious. The state recommends suspensions of 15 to 60 days for Class 4 drug violations, so Root and Baze got the shortest recommended suspensions.

One of the stewards thought the suspensions should be longer.

"My vote was for a 30-day suspension," said deputy state steward Bob Blair. "They said they used it in an ointment to heal cuts, but that drug can be used for too many other things. It can be used to inject knees, for example. Both horses had cuts and rundown bandages, though, so the other two stewards believed the trainers."

Blair admitted that the lab that reported the positive findings indicated there was a low level of triamcinolone in the samples.

Suspensions for non-therapeutic levels of legal medications irritate horsemen, but few are willing to talk about that on the record. One who did last weekend was Dr. Jack Root, who is Ben Root's father and a veterinarian.

"Trace levels of medications like that one do not affect the performance of horses," he said of triamcinolone. "Using a drug like that, which is perfectly legal when it is administered before entry time, might help a trainer bring a horse into a race in sound condition. It won't help the horse run faster, though, and they shouldn't suspend trainers for those very low levels."

Ben Root's mother, Cookie Root, and Robbie Baze's mother, Shirley Baze, will train the horses while their sons serve their suspensions.

New steward appointed

Thelma Lynn has been named to replace Steve Hiatt, who resigned his post as steward at Emerald Downs.

Lynn, a former trainer, has served as a mutuels inspector and substitute steward at Emerald Downs for the past several years. She was also instrumental in establishing and operating that track's daycare center for children, which is considered a model throughout the racing industry.