06/17/2002 11:00PM

Bad luck for one is break for another

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AUBURN, Wash. - The fortunes of riders Karen Knapp and Oscar Mancilla diverged last weekend. Knapp got another dose of well deserved success and Mancilla endured more bad luck.

Mancilla arrived here from Maryland with high hopes just before this meeting began April 19. His business was beginning to take off when he was injured in a paddock mishap on May 3, in which he fractured a collarbone. He was supposed to be out six to eight weeks, but worked hard to return on June 6. Again, he managed to build his business to the point where he was named on five live horses on both Saturday's and Sunday's cards, including a ride on Secret Launch in Sunday's $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Stakes at a mile.

But on Saturday, Mancilla got caught in tight quarters entering the first turn of the one-mile second race and his mount, King Lex, clipped heels and fell. Mancilla dislocated a shoulder, an extremely painful injury.

But it wasn't the pain Mancilla was feeling when he visited the backstretch, with his right arm in a sling, on Sunday morning.

"My mount in the very next race won, and the purse was $13,000," he said. "And today I was supposed to ride Secret Launch in the stakes. I mean, I don't know if he'll win, but I really like him. He has been working like a monster. It's just so frustrating."

Mancilla's injury, which may keep him out of action for a month, left trainer Sharon Ross without a rider for Secret Launch in the Budweiser Emerald. Ross, who was also to saddle the strong favorite, Crowning Meeting, left the decision up to her husband, Larry Ross.

"We had several choices, but Larry said let's go with the jockey who is riding best right now," she said. "That was Karen Knapp."

Knapp had taken six years away from racing to raise her son. She returned to riding last winter at Portland Meadows, where she did just well enough to convince herself to try to find a place in the much tougher jockey colony at Emerald. She enjoyed some success with limited mounts from the start of the meet, and on June 8 she drew attention by winning with all three of her mounts on the card. She entered last weekend's racing with 9 wins from 60 mounts and a reputation for heady rides. She only enhanced that reputation in the Budweiser Emerald.

Breaking from the inside post in a field of eight, Knapp sent Secret Launch to the lead at the break, then slowed the pace to 23 seconds for the initial quarter-mile. She maintained a daylight lead with a half-mile in 45.20 seconds and six furlongs in 1:08.60, but retained enough horse to stave off a determined late move by Crowning Meeting to prevail by a half-length in 1:33.40, the second-fastest mile clocking ever at Emerald Downs.

"Man, that horse is fast," said Knapp. "Today was the first time I had been on him. I didn't even know he was a gray until I saw him in the paddock. Sharon told me he was an easy horse to ride, though. She said to go to the front and try to slow the pace down as much as I could, and that's what I did.

"I thought I would ride Lucky Bluff in this race, but I got taken off for another rider, so I was down about that. Then I picked up this horse and things worked out better than I could have dreamed. My whole meeting has been like that. Things have worked out for the best."

Ross was elated with Secret Launch's win, his first since the summer of 2000, and she was more than pleased with the gutty performance of Crowning Meeting, who finished nearly nine lengths in front of the show horse, 25-1 shot Jade Green. Still, she found time to commiserate with Mancilla.

"I've got to feel bad for Oscar," she said. "He's such a good guy and a good rider, but he has had nothing but bad luck here. I just hope he doesn't get discouraged and leave. We need good riders here, and he has so much talent I know things will turn around for him. His time will come, I'm sure."

Ross said both Secret Launch and Crowning Meeting are being pointed for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 25, but they may take different routes. She said Secret Launch will go in the $40,000 Independence Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, but Crowning Meeting may wait for the $100,000 Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap at nine furlongs on July 28.