07/25/2005 11:00PM

Belvoir babies shine early and often

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Howard Belvoir notched his fifth and sixth 2-year-old wins at the meeting Sunday, a remarkable feat considering only 31 races for 2-year-olds have been run. No other trainer has saddled more than two juvenile winners.

"I've got a really good group of 2-year-olds this year," said Belvoir, who developed juvenile stars Sundance Circle and Seattles Best Joe here in recent years. "I went to the Keeneland September sale last year and bought four colts and one filly. I think they can all run."

The filly, Celtic Crown, showed that she can run Sunday, when she won the six-furlong Angie C. Stakes in just her second start. In her first start against maiden special weight company June 26, Celtic Crown overcame a slow start and a wide trip to get up for second.

"I thought she had to be live in the stakes after her first start," said Belvoir. "She wasn't that far away from the other contenders, and you expect 2-year-olds to improve a bunch in their second starts."

Celtic Crown did just that. Under Jennifer Whitaker, she came from almost 10 lengths back to grab the lead in the upper stretch, then dug in late to stave off the late charge of Nite Moon by three-quarters of a length in 1:12.40.

Nite Moon finished second after getting away last and having to circle the field on the turn. Rider Gary Baze said Nite Moon was standing perfectly before the gate popped, then turned her head at just the wrong moment.

"She got left, but she ran her butt off to get second," said trainer Tim McCanna. "I've had a lot of good luck, though, so I'm not going to whine about a little bad. I liked the way she ran."

Belvoir said he also liked the way Celtic Crown ran.

"Ninety percent of the 2-year-old races are won with speed, so when you get one who will close through traffic in her first or second start, it's a really good sign," he said. "I think she's got a real bright future."

Belvoir said the most enjoyable part of his job is developing 2-year-olds.

"It's everybody's hope to come up with a good 2-year-old, because it gives you a lot to look forward to," he said. "When you get one, you just hope you can keep her sound."

Two favorites in juvenile stakes

Belvoir is likely to be doubly nervous before this Saturday's six-furlong Emerald Express, the first stakes of the year for 2-year-old colts and geldings. He will saddle the two likely favorites in Courting Seattle, the division's lone two-time winner, and Tusko T., an impressive debut winner over maiden special weight runners at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Belvoir has said he prefers Courting Seattle at this point in their careers, but wouldn't be shocked to see Tusko T. win the Emerald Express.

"I think Tusko T. is every bit as talented as Courting Seattle, but I'm just not sure how he will hold up to the pressure," said Belvoir. "Juan Gutierrez has been working with him, and they seem to get along well with each other, so maybe he'll be all right. If he handles the paddock well and stays composed, I'll like his chances."

Norm's Nephew rebounds

Norm's Nephew took an important step along the trail to the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby on Friday, when he won a mile allowance race for 3-year-olds. Under new rider Kevin Krigger, Norm's Nephew attended the pace of Another Bob to the five-sixteenth pole, then forged to the front and withstood the stretch move of Confidential Call to prevail by a neck in 1:36.80.

Norm's Nephew made amends for his fourth-place finish as the favorite in the June 26 Tacoma Handicap, which marked his first attempt at a mile.

"He just got a better trip this time, and of course it helped that it was his second route," said trainer Jimmy Orr. "Anyway, I was very glad to see that he can handle two turns. He came out of the race tired, and he ran down on his heels a little, but he is fine. Now we'll just take him on through the stakes schedule."

Norm's Nephew, who has now won 4 of 5 starts at the meeting, will go next in the $65,000 Seattle Slew Handicap at 1 1/16 miles Aug. 7. If all goes well, he will contest the 1 1/8-mile Emerald Derby on Sept. 5.

No shortage of action

This weekend will be the busiest yet at the Emerald meeting. The Emerald Express and the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap for older fillies and mares will highlight Saturday's card, then the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap and the 1 1/8-mile Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup will headline the inaugural Mile Preview Day on Sunday, when virtually all of the locally based Longacres Mile hopefuls will audition. The Longacres Mile will be run Aug. 21.

In addition, Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker will conduct a handicapping seminar Saturday from 11 a.m. until noon, and on Sunday the track will stage its Ultimate Qualifying Tournament for 400 handicappers. A $10,000 first prize is up for grabs, and the top nine qualifiers will earn an expensepaid trip to Las Vegas for the DRF/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in January.