08/03/2001 12:00AM

Advantage is wild card in Governors Cap


AUBURN, Wash. - Northwest fans have largely been spared the difficulties of handicapping foreign horses making their first starts in the United States, at least insofar as live racing is concerned. But that changes on Sunday when the Chilean-bred Advantage starts in the 6 1/2-furlong Governors Handicap at Emerald Downs.

Advantage, a 4-year-old son of the Roberto stallion Repriced from a daughter of Relaunch, has raced exclusively in his native land, winning 7 of 38 starts on both turf and dirt at distances from six to nine furlongs. He arrived at the barn of trainer Dave Forster about six weeks ago, according to the trainer's son and assistant, Grant Forster.

"The owner, Dave Mitchell, lived in Chile for many years, and while he was there he raced horses in partnership with several other people," Grant Forster said. "He recently returned home to Edmonton for health reasons, and before he left Chile he bought out his partners on this colt and on a 2-year-old filly and he sent them to us so he could see them race."

Forster said Mitchell told them that Advantage was regarded as a good stakes horse in Chile, where he split decisions in two starts against Lido Palace, who upset Albert the Great in last weekend's Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. The owner also said his color-bearer was a stalker who didn't mind battling with other horses, and Forster reported that he has seen some of that competitiveness in the mornings.

"He was kind of lazy when we worked him by himself, but one day he broke off about eight lengths behind another horse and caught him in no time," Forster said. "He worked five furlongs in about a minute flat that day, and since then he has gone well every time we have worked him in company.

"He seems like a nice horse, but who knows where he'll fit here? We're as excited as anyone to see what we've got. If we get lucky and win this race, maybe we'll have another Longacres Mile horse to go with Makors Mark."

If Advantage adds intrigue to the Governors, so does another horse who is much better known to local fans. Edneator was named horse of the meeting last year at Emerald after winning the Longacres Mile and the Washington Championship, but he has not raced since being eased in the Forty Niner Handicap last November at Golden Gate.

"He came out of that race with a virus that developed into pneumonia," said trainer Jim Penney. "He lost a lot of time, so we feel like we've been under the gun to get him ready to run again. We think we've got him ready now, but we're keeping all of our options open until race day. Nobody wants to see him run more than we do, but we don't want to send him out there if he's not ready to run his best."

Penney said one factor complicating his decision is that Edneator has trained differently than he did last year.

"If you look at his work tab you'll think he has trained fast, and he has," said Penney. "But he hasn't breezed as fast as he did in previous years and we're not sure what that means. Personally, I think it just means that he is an older, more mature horse now, but I can't be sure until he runs. He needs to show us that he's still the same horse."

With so much uncertainty surrounding Advantage and Edneator, it is comforting to know that at least one of the Governors entrants can be depended upon to run his race. Handy N Bold, who will be seeking a record-equaling ninth Emerald Downs stakes win, will go to the front at the start and reach the wire about 1:15 later, give or take a couple of ticks depending on the condition of the track. Will that be good enough to win?

"Well, I've got to quit worrying about that," said trainer Charlie Essex. "I'm just going to send him out there and see what the others do. I know what he'll do. I guess we'll find out on Sunday if that's good enough."