05/14/2010 12:00AM

Assessment returns in tough spot


AUBURN, Wash. - Assessment, horse of the meeting at Emerald Downs in 2009, is slated to make his season debut Sunday in the $50,000 Seattle Handicap at six furlongs.

Assessment was first or second in each of his seven starts last summer, winning at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. He captured the one-mile Bud Emerald Handicap in June and the nine-furlong Mount Rainier Handicap in July before capping his season with a $16.60 upset in the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile in August.

Plans to run in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita in November were scrapped when Assessment suffered a bone chip in an ankle during a workout at Emerald Downs. He'll be making his first appearance in nine months on Sunday.

Trained by Howard Belvoir for owner Lou Tice's Tice Ranch Stables, Assessment matured into a top-flight handicap horse during his 5-year-old season after winning just 3 of his first 18 starts through age 4. He earned $257,000 in 2009, pushing his lifetime earnings to $355,900. Gallyn Mitchell, aboard for each of his starts last season, has the call again Sunday.

While he has worked brilliantly for his return, capped by a best-of-the-day four-furlong gate move Wednesday, Assessment could have his hands full with the likes of defending Seattle Handicap champion Kruger Park and rising 4-year-olds Noosa Beach and Winning Machine.

Kruger Park, a front-running 6-year-old owned and trained by Carlos Moreno, won two sprint stakes last summer and two more at Portland Meadows this winter. He'll be ridden by Inoel Beato.

Noosa Beach and Winning Machine, both trained by Doris Harwood, ran one-two in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race April 18, setting them up nicely for their first stakes test against older horses. Ricky Frazier will ride Noosa Beach, and Francisco Duran was named on Winning Machine, hero of the Emerald and British Columbia derbies last summer.

Rounding out the 10-horse field are Peaceful Reign, who ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.40 in his season debut, just .20 of a second off the track and North American record; Elusive Schemes; Rooster City; 2008 Longacres Mile champion Wasserman; 2008 Emerald Derby winner Gallon; and 2008 California Derby winner and Preakness also-ran Yankee Bravo, who will be making his first start at Emerald Downs.