04/07/2005 12:00AM

'Warlock' surprise invader


PORTLAND, Ore. - Nobody was happy when it was announced earlier in the meeting that the purse for Saturday's Portland Meadows Mile would be cut from $40,000 to $20,000. Local horsemen with Mile candidates were quick to see a silver lining, however. With a smaller purse, they reasoned, the Mile would be much less likely to lure the tough shippers it has so often drawn in the past.

That line of thinking was logical enough, but trainer Terry Gillihan knocked it into a cocked hat when he showed up last weekend with Demon Warlock. Demon Warlock is not only a bona fide shipper for Saturday's Mile, he may be the toughest horse to contest the race since Bill Shoemaker booted Present Value to victory in 1989, when the Portland Meadows Mile had a purse of $100,000.

Demon Warlock, a 5-year-old son of Demons Begone, is coming off a year in which he won 6 of 11 starts and nearly $200,000 en route to being named horse of the meeting at Emerald Downs. His credits last year included wins in the $77,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles and the $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic at 1 1/16 miles, plus a bang-up second to Adreamisborn in the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile.

This year he has started twice in six-furlong races at Bay Meadows, finishing fourth in an allowance on March 9 and in the San Carlos Handicap on March 26. Demon Warlock appeared to be cranked up to begin his defense of his horse of the meeting title at Emerald in the six- furlong Seattle Handicap on April 24, but he ended up here instead.

"It was mainly a matter of timing and distance," Gillihan explained. "He is ready to run again now, and I didn't really want to run him again at six furlongs. I decided to run him here, then skip the Seattle Handicap and jump into the Emerald stakes schedule when they go a little longer."

Gillihan said he brought Demon Warlock here a week before the race to give him a chance to get accustomed to the surface.

"He's not really picky about his surfaces, but this one is so sandy I thought it couldn't hurt to let him train over it," he said.

Gary Baze, who will ride on Saturday, drove down from Emerald to work Demon Warlock three furlongs in 37.60 on Monday.

My Friend Dave razor sharp

Trainer Corky Caron, who owns My Friend Dave in partnership with Dave Benson, wasn't pleased to see Gillihan show up with Demon Warlock for the Mile. Nevertheless, Caron could scarcely be happier with the way his own horse is doing.

The 5-year-old My Friend Dave has posted three straight wins, including a powerhouse two-length victory over fellow Mile contenders Crimson Design and Knightsbridge Road in the six-furlong Governor's Speed Handicap on March 19.

"He is at the top of his game now," said Caron. "I was really impressed with his last race."

According to Caron, jockey Jose Zunino told him that at the three-eighths pole he didn't think he would win. "But a couple of strides later," Caron said, "he knew he had it in the bag. His acceleration was really remarkable."

Caron said My Friend Dave's recent success has been all the sweeter because it was unexpected. My Friend Dave sustained a slab fracture of a knee early in his 3-year-old campaign, and for many months his future was in doubt.

"Everybody said he would never race again, but Doctor Gary Bergsma said there was I chance I could bring him back and I decided to try," Caron said. "It was touch and go. He came back after a year and won his first two starts, but his knee got to bothering him again after his third start and I had to turn him out again. This year, everything has gone smoothly, and it has really been fun to have a horse like him. The part I'm proudest of, though, is bringing him back from that injury."

A victory in the Mile would be the perfect climax to My Friend Dave's comeback story, but Caron feels Demon Warlock's arrival has diminished his chances.

"I really don't know if he can run with Gilly's horse," he said. "That's an awfully nice horse. He's coming to play in our back yard, though, and my horse couldn't be doing any better. If nothing goes wrong between now and the race, I'm pretty sure he'll put his best foot forward."

Bub fractures cannon bone

Saturday's Mile lost a prime contender when Bub fractured a hind cannon bone in his final prep for the race last weekend at Emerald Downs. Owner Art McFadden said Bub will be out of action for the rest of this year.

The 5-year-old Bub missed almost all of his 3-year-old season with a serious illness and was just coming back to his brilliant form as a 2-year-old, when he won three stakes at Emerald.