05/09/2006 11:00PM

Belvoir pair headed to Pepsi-Cola


AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Howard Belvoir said Courting Seattle and Tusko T., the first and third finishers in Sunday's six-furlong Auburn Stakes for 3-year-olds, came out of their efforts in apple pie order and will be pointed toward the $55,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on June 4.

"I'd rather not run them against each other, but I really don't have any other options right now," said the trainer. "Down the road I might think about running Courting Seattle at Hastings Park, but I can't do that with Tusko T. He's just not the kind of horse who will ship and run."

Tusko T., a nervous and sometimes volatile horse, has been a source of concern to his trainer. He was relatively calm in the paddock on Sunday, perhaps because he wasn't there very long. Belvoir sent him to the track as soon as he was saddled, sidestepping the walking ring and the post parade.

"I'd like to follow that routine with him from here on out," said Belvoir. "It's easier on him, and it is really a lot safer for everyone."

Courting Seattle is a far more relaxed individual. He does display what might be called excessive playfulness on occasion, however, and rider Jennifer Whitaker said it is sometimes a challenge to stay on him in the morning. He tried briefly to buck Whitaker off on the way to the gate on Sunday, but he was all business when the bell rang.

Courting Seattle rated just off the pace of Ballou Slew and just ahead of his stablemate through a half-mile in 44 seconds, then forged to the front in upper stretch and drew away to a 2 3/4-length victory in 1:08.60. Ballou Slew held second by a nose over Tusko T., who was surging late.

"I was happy with both of them," said Belvoir. "Tusko T. was a little closer than I wanted him to be in the early going, but he was fresh. Courting Seattle did everything right. I think he is really a nice horse, and he relaxes so well that I don't think he'll have a problem stretching out around two turns."

The Auburn field was reduced to eight with the scratch of the morning-line third choice, Raise the Bluff. Trainer Junior Coffey said Raise the Bluff had an elevated temperature, apparently the result of a stomach virus. Coffey said the horse was still not 100 percent on Tuesday, but that he had improved considerably.

On top of the standings

Courting Seattle's score, coming hard on the heels of wins by barnmates Brass Tacks and Padilla Bay on Saturday, pushed Belvoir to the top of the trainer standings with 6 wins from 30 starters at the young meeting.

"I haven't done anything different this year, but my horses are running well right now," he said. "I guess I'd better enjoy it while it lasts."

Whitaker, who was aboard all three of Belvoir's weekend winners, moved into a tie for third in the rider standings with Julio Felix and Gallyn Mitchell. All have six wins, one less than Kevin Radke and Kevin Krigger, who share the top spot with seven wins apiece.

While the jockey race is as tight as a dead heat, the race for leading jockey agent is, as usual, a runaway. Agent Boone McCanna books mounts for Radke, Krigger and Felix.

Big day at the mutuel windows

Saturday's all-sources handle reached $2,773,425, the most ever wagered at Emerald Downs on Kentucky Derby Day and the third-most ever handled in the track's 10-year history. Only the 2003 Longacres Mile Day ($3,037,581) and the 2005 Longacres Mile program ($2,906,525) produced higher handles.

Buoyed by the big Kentucky Derby Day handle, Emerald's average daily handle from all sources stood at $1,557,125 through Saturday. That represents an increase of 4.4 percent over the average for the same seven days of racing last year.

Five winners on day for Beckner

Rider Twyla Beckner finished the Portland Meadows meeting with a flourish, winning five races on Saturday's next-to-last day of racing. Among Beckner's winners was California invader Hopingandwishing, who won the $15,000 Oregon Derby by a resounding 10 1/4 lengths over Piracy, with Tom Two third.

Beckner also won with the Quarter Horse Pardonmydustdotcom, which gave her a share of the Quarter Horse riding title. Beckner, Clark Jones, and Tim Neal each had 12 Quarter Horse victories at the meeting.

Jose Zunino won his first Portland Meadows Thoroughbred riding title with 85 victories to 69 for runnerup Javier Ortega.

Jim Fergason established a record for Thoroughbred training victories at Portland Meadows, saddling 67 winners at the 77-day stand. Ben Root and Jonathan Nance tied for second on the list with 39 training wins apiece.

The leading Quarter Horse trainer was Scott Raley with 15 wins at the meet.