05/04/2006 12:00AM

Be a Halo returns to sprint

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AUBURN, Wash. - Be a Halo will be back at his best game in Saturday's featured race at Emerald Downs, a $25,000 optional claiming affair that has drawn a field of 12 older sprinters to vie at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Be a Halo was claimed last June at Arlington Park for $50,000 by Paul Heist's Grasshopper Stable. Be a Halo was coming off a string of four straight exacta finishes in sprints, but Heist and trainer Jim Penney hoped that he could stretch out to route distances. Be a Halo failed to get the 1 1/16 miles of last August's Seattle Slew Handicap, however, and he was turned out after being eased in an optional claiming event at a mile in September.

With a fresh start this spring, Be a Halo has posted a string of fast workouts, and he seems set to regain his best form with the return to sprinting. All of his rivals are also coming off layoffs, so he concedes no fitness edge.

Be a Halo figures to be challenged for the early lead by Free Cocktails. Free Cocktails scored three straight front-running wins at last year's stand before dropping a nose decision in the Stanislaw Ashbaugh Sprint on Oct. 16.

The track has planned several activities in conjunction with Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, including its annual hat contest. All patrons wearing decorative hats will be admitted free, and there will be a $500 top prize for the most creative and innovative hat.