08/06/2004 12:00AM

Best on Tap retooled for third shot at 'Willie'


AUBURN, Wash. - Best on Tap ran so well in the April 25 Seattle Handicap at six furlongs, finishing a closing second to the heavily favored Willie the Cat, that trainer Doug Driever ran him back against Willie the Cat in the May 23 Fox Sports Net Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. On that occasion, Best on Tap attempted to hook the faster Willie the Cat and paid a steep price, tiring to finish eighth.

That's when Driever made a key decision, dropping Best on Tap, a 4-year-old, out of the stakes ranks for a pair of engagements against $25,000 optional claiming company.

"I just felt he needed to win," said Driever. "I didn't want him to get discouraged."

Best on Tap responded with a pair of wins, the first a hard-fought decision in a track record 1:13.60 for 6 1/2 furlongs and the second a laugher in 1:08.40 for six furlongs. As a result, Driever has a happy and confident horse for his rematch with Willie the Cat in Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap, the last local prep for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 22.

"He is really feeling good now," said Driever. "Benny Russell worked him on Sunday, and he said the horse has never been better. I look for him to run a big race."

Best on Tap went four furlongs in 47.80 seconds for Sunday's work.

Driever claimed Best on Tap, a son of Signal Tap and Very Best Friend, for owner Jim Ingalls last October at Bay Meadows for $20,000. Best on Tap has since won 3 of 10 starts and roughly $50,000, and he may soon have an opportunity to win much more.

"If he runs well in the Governor's, we want to try him at a mile on Aug. 22," said Driever.

Having a horse in the $250,000 Longacres Mile would be a major accomplishment for Driever, who has only been training professionally since 1998.

"I trained part-time at Boise before that," he said. "I had an electrical contracting business to run in Sun Valley, so I had to squeeze the horses in on the side. I always loved the horses, though, so after our kids left home my wife, Barbara, and I decided to sell the business and move here."

Driever's stable and his success have grown with each year. Last season he trained his first stakes winner, Top Penny, who won a pair of added-money events in Phoenix, and this year he has scored with eight of 36 starters for a success rate of 22 percent.

"I feel like I'm making progress, but I still haven't won a stakes at Emerald," he said. "I hope that changes on Sunday."

Ingalls may have two for Mile

If Best on Tap earns a berth in the Mile, owner Jim Ingalls might have an entry in the Northwest's most prestigious race. Ingalls also owns American Fury, a 4-year-old son of Souvenir Copy who won a 6 1/2-furlong race for $62,500 optional claimers at Del Mar last Monday. American Fury earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, his second straight triple-digit Beyer, and trainer Carlton Robbins is considering the Mile for his next start.

"We'll have to look at the nominations when they close, but I think it would be a lot of fun to take him up there and run in the Mile," he said. "The horse is peaking right now, and he came out of his race on Monday just great."

Nominations for the 69th running of the Longacres Mile close this Sunday. Robbins said American Fury has already been nominated.

Colony Lane ready to rebound

The sleeper in the Governor's could be Colony Lane, who won last year's Washington Cup Classic and came back in his 5-year-old debut July 5 to finish third to Best on Tap. Colony Lane returned to run fifth and last in a six-furlong allowance on July 25, but trainer Bonnie Jenne said there was a reason for the flat performance.

"It turned out he had a low-grade infection," she said. "We gave him antibiotics and he got over it, so we'll try again."

Though disappointed that her horse was sick, Jenne was also relieved that there was an explanation for the way he ran.

"I was just shocked that he loomed up and hung the way he did," said Jenne. "I was expecting him to run a huge race, but maybe now he'll run that race in the Governor's. He is feeling good again, and it looks like everyone in the race wants the lead but him. It might just set up for him to run them down."

A big effort by Colony Lane could put Jenne in position to field a unique entry in the Longacres Mile. She has already nominated Colony Lane's 4-year-old full brother, Mr. Makah, who earned his Mile ticket with a second to Poker Brad in the 1 1/8-mile Mt. Rainier Stakes on July 25.