09/17/2010 2:44PM

Assessment finds a soft spot at Emerald

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AUBURN, Wash. – After 11 consecutive stakes appearances, Assessment will dip into the allowance ranks Sunday at Emerald Downs. The 2009 horse of the meeting, Assessment tops a five-horse field competing for a $21,500 purse in the ninth race on a 10-race card that begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Third in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in his last start, a race he won in 2009, Assessment is reaching peak form just as the meeting winds to a close. He has started five times this year, winning once, after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from an ankle last fall. He has fizzled in a couple of starts, most notably as the even-money favorite in the Mount Rainier Handicap on Aug. 1, but the Howard Belvoir-trained runner is the only horse to defeat Longacres Mile winner Noosa Beach in 2010, prevailing by a neck in the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap in early July.

Regular rider Gallyn Mitchell has the call on Assessment, whose 2009 season included three stakes victories and three stakes seconds. Overall, the 6-year-old by Jump Start has won 8 of 30 starts and earned $422,230 for owner Lou Tice’s Tice Ranch Stables.

Assessment does his best running from off the pace and could get an ideal setup in Sunday’s eight-furlong test if Winning Machine, fifth in the Longacres Mile after setting the pace, and Taif, a classy allowance sprinter, hook up early. In any event, Assessment figures to be a short-priced favorite, with Winning Machine the other logical contender.

Winning Machine was Northwest’s best 3-year-old in 2009, capturing the Emerald and British Columbia derbies in a three-week span in September. He won 4 of 6 starts and earned $247,323, but 2010 has been a struggle. After finishing second behind Noosa Beach in his first two starts, he was a distant last in the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on a sloppy track June 20, after which his owners transferred him to trainer Frank Lucarelli.

Winning Machine has yet to hit the board in two starts for Lucarelli, though his effort in the Longacres Mile – he ran six furlongs in 1:09.40 before giving way – was commendable. He’ll have a new rider Sunday, with Kevin Krigger replacing Inoel Beato.

Taif has two wins in four starts at the meeting, rallying gamely to win a first-level $50,000 optional claimer on the Longacres Mile undercard in his last start. He joins the other starters, Gallon and Cyber Bell, as longshots looking to upset the reigning horse of the meeting.