06/10/2002 11:00PM

Bennett's persistence pays off with stakes win

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Dave Bennett, who has run a horse in every 2-year-old race at the Emerald Downs meeting, was rewarded for his persistence on Sunday when Freedom March, appearing better seasoned than her eight 2-year-old filly rivals, won the Pierce County Stakes at five furlongs.

Under jockey Gary Baze, Freedom March swept to the lead in the final furlong and scored a 2 3/4-length victory over the favored Marva Jean, a first-time starter, in a stakes-record 58.20 seconds. Miss Mariah, another first-time starter, was up for third.

"I think having a race in her made a tremendous difference," said Bennett, who sent out Freedom March to a victory against $12,500 maidens on May 18.

"She experienced what it was like to pass horses in that race, and we were able to build on that in the mornings," Bennett said. "We felt most of the others would be zooming out of the gate because they didn't know any other way to run. So our plan was to stalk the pace and run down the lane. It worked out exactly the way we hoped it would."

Touchabull broke on top and had a short lead through a quarter in 21.80 seconds. But Marva Jean recovered from a slow break and opened a three-length lead on the turn. She led by a half-length after a half-mile in 45.20, but could not hold off Freedom March in deep stretch.

"It was her first time out and she got a little tired," said Marva Jean's rider, Juan Gutierrez. "She's a really nice filly."

Freedom March is the first stakes winner for Dream Racing Stable, which comprises Mike Feuerborn, John Maryanski, Richard Hitchcock, and Bennett's wife, Debra Larson.

Feuerborn, Dave Bennett's primary client, and Bennett picked out Freedom March, a daughter of Free at Last, at last summer's WTBA summer yearling sale. Though her dam, Marshua's Music, is a stakes winner who had already produced Washington-bred 2-year-old champion Dancin'all the Way, they were able to buy Freedom March for $5,000.

"She was quite small at the time, but I couldn't find anything wrong with her at all, and Mike and I both loved her breeding," said Bennett. "She has grown into a nice, medium-sized filly with a real good mind, and I think she has a real nice future. The way she finished today, I don't know why she wouldn't run farther."

Jockey Knapp splashes down here

Jockey Karen Knapp, who took six years off to be with her son until he entered school, added to her successful comeback Saturday, winning with all three of her mounts at Emerald. Knapp, who rode in Oregon and Washington from 1981 through 1995, returned to riding last November at Portland Meadows but struggled early on. Then her business improved enough for her to try riding at the current Emerald meet, and she is pleased with the results.

Despite riding mostly longshots, Knapp has won with nine of 51 mounts to move into 10th place in the jockey standings.

Her final winner Saturday was Sheza Wild Card, who won by a head in a three-way photo against bottom-level maiden 3-year-old fillies at 22-1. Sheza Wild Card had shown promise, finishing third against maiden special weight company at Portland Meadows in December, but she was defeated by more than 22 lengths in her next start, in Portland, and was defeated by more than 32 lengths in her first start here, on April 27.

"She bucked both of her shins in her second start," said trainer Scott Freeman. "Then in her first start here, she bled really badly. She got Lasix for the first time on Saturday, and Karen gave her a great ride. So that pretty much accounts for the turnaround."

* Blue Tejano, an 8-year-old sprinter from the barn of Sharon Ross, added to the list of track records falling at the Emerald meeting, running six furlongs in 1:07.60 to beat $20,000 claimers on Friday. Another Ross-trained 8-year-old, Crowning Meeting, equaled Handy N Bold's six-furlong track record of 1:07.80 in this year's Seattle Handicap.

* Handy N Bold, who shares the record for total stakes wins at Emerald with nine, will start next in the Aug. 4 Governor's Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. Trainer Charles Essex said Handy N Bold pulled a muscle while going unplaced in the Fox Sports Net Handicap in May, and needed time off.

* Emerald Downs caps will be given to each paid admission for Sunday's Father's Day program, which includes the $75,000-added Budweiser Emerald Handicap for older horses.