06/07/2001 11:00PM

'Better' steps up once again

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AUBURN, Wash. - Better Than That will seek his fifth win in six career starts when he heads a field of seven older $25,000-$22,500 claimers in Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong feature at Emerald Downs.

Better Than That, a 4-year-old son of Premiership trained by Jim Penney, has steadily climbed the class ladder since winning his debut against $6,250 maidens last season. He has won both starts at this stand, downing $12,500 company with six furlongs in 1:09.80 on May 3, then defeating $20,000 rivals on May 25 after 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.60. In his most recent score, Better Than That was blocked entering the stretch, then bulled through a narrow opening along the rail to win by half-length over Knight Invasion. Nate Chaves, who is 3 for 3 aboard Better Than That, again has the mount at 119 pounds.

Sunshine Scholar, making his first start since being named horse of the meeting at last winter's Playfair stand, should challenge Better Than That. Sunshine Scholar, a 6-year-old trained by Richard Wright, earned the honor by winning both the Playfair Mile and the Inland Empire Marathon in Spokane. Sunshine Scholar, will be ridden by Frank Gonsalves at 119 pounds.

The live action will be supplemented by simulcast wagering on the entire card from Belmont Park, where the $1 million Belmont Stakes will be run as the 10th race on a 12-race program. First post at Belmont is set for 9:20 a.m. Pacific, and the Belmont Stakes will go off at 3:04 p.m. First post time for Saturday's 10-race card at Emerald is 12:48 p.m.