07/09/2009 12:00AM

All speed, all the time in Emerald sprint


AUBURN, Wash. - The feature race Saturday at Emerald Downs sets up perfectly for a closer, but there isn't one; all six entrants in the $40,000 optional claimer for 3-year-olds have demonstrated front-running ability or a knack for winning from slightly off the pace. The seventh event on a 10-race card that begins at 2 p.m., it should make for one of the most competitive races of the meeting.

Proud Nicholas and Siberian Cocktail should be among the favorites in the six-furlong race. Proud Nicholas faded to finish fifth after pressing the pace in the one-mile Tacoma Handicap in his most recent start, but recorded an 84 Beyer Speed Figure in his previous start, when he ran six furlongs in 1:08.20 while crushing five foes in a second-level allowance race. Trained by Doris Harwood, Proud Nicholas has finished first or second in each of his three starts at Saturday's distance. Saul Arias has the riding assignment.

Siberian Cocktail has been the favorite in each of his four starts. After a nine-length victory in a maiden race last September, he finished second behind Noosa Beach in the six-furlong Captain Condo Stakes in the final start of his 2-year-old season. He returned to the races April 18, finishing a close second behind Winning Machine in a first-level allowance. He then was turned out to recover from a back injury, returning to training in June. Trainer Tim McCanna named Seth Martinez to ride.

Strawberry Topper also figures in the mix. A front-runner trained by Dan Markle, he retreated to finish seventh after setting a contested pace in the 6 1/2-furlong Pepsi-Cola Handicap in his most recent start. He defeated Proud Nicholas in an allowance race May 9, and finished third, a length behind Siberian Cocktail, on April 18. Joe Crispin has the call on Strawberry Topper, who drew post 5, with Siberian Cocktail (3) and Proud Nicholas (4) to his immediate inside.

Skyattic, Roy's Tops, and Big Liberty complete the field.

The racing week concludes Sunday with the meeting's first stakes race for 2-year-olds, the $30,000 Knight's Choice Stakes for fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs. Restricted to progeny of nominated stallions, the race is expected to attract a strong field topped by Knight Raider, a Harwood-trained runner who posted a 73 Beyer Speed Figure in her maiden victory, the second-highest Beyer by a 2-year-old at Emerald this season.