09/10/2010 2:14PM

Belle Roberts will be Clair Annette's last hurrah

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AUBURN, Wash. – Clair Annette will start as the favorite Sunday in the $40,000 Belle Roberts, one of six stakes races on Washington Cup Day at Emerald Downs. Win or lose, it promises to be a bittersweet moment for owner Nina Egbert and trainer Connie Bouslaugh, who will saddle Clair Annette for the final time before she is retired at age 7.

Bouslaugh and Clair Annette have been joined at the hip for the last six years. After nursing Clair Annette back from a career-threatening injury at 3, Bouslaugh transformed her into a stakes-winning sprinter three years later. Clair Annette went on to win three consecutive two-turn stakes, including the King County and Boeing handicaps this year.

Clair Annette has won 10 of 21 starts but has never been the people’s horse, starting as the wagering favorite three times. But Bouslaugh said she always sensed Clair Annette was special.

“She’s one I’ll never forget,” Bouslaugh said. “It’s not going to be the same walking into the barn when she’s gone, but I’m always going to have a connection with her, I’ll be able to see her. She’s been very special to me. She went through a lot to even get to the races.”

Unraced at 2, Clair Annette suffered a broken shoulder at 3, apparently ending her racing career before it had a chance to begin. A year later, she was back in the game.

“We planned on going straight into a breeding program with her,” Bouslaugh said. “I came home one afternoon, the middle of April, we hadn’t booked a stallion, and I just decided to load her up and bring her to the track, put 60 days into her and see how she handled it. That was the start of it all.”

Retirement has been in the works for a while, Bouslaugh said. Clair Annette’s next stop will be Kentucky, where she’ll begin her career as a broodmare.

“She’ll be 8 next year, and it’s just time,” Bouslaugh said. “I didn’t want to try to bring her back and have her lose a step and not be able to run at her current level. She’s been an awesome horse to have around. I hope she can win this one and go out on top.”