04/17/2003 12:00AM

Bisbee's Prospect back in U.S. Bank


AUBURN, Wash. - Among the most anticipated appearances on Saturday's opening-day program at Emerald Downs is that of Bisbee's Prospect, who will be among the favorites in the featured U.S. Bank Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

Bisbee's Prospect was so impressive in her 5 1/2-furlong debut last July, which she won by more than eight lengths in 1:03.80, that she was bet down to 3-5 next time out in the one-mile Barbara Shinpoch Stakes. She finished third and has not raced since.

"She had a breathing problem and couldn't get enough air," said Bob McMeans, who trains Bisbee's Prospect for Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms. "She had throat surgery after that race and we turned her out. She has been back in training since January, and we haven't seen any recurrence of the problem.

"In fact, she has been training better than ever. She seems to have grown some since last year, and her attitude is very good. I hope she'll be able to do what I think she can do. She never really got to show her stuff last year, but I've always considered her to be very talented."

Bisbee's Prospect is a half-sister to the multiple-stakes-winning filly Taste the Passion by the hot sire Smart Strike. Paxton, who bred Bisbee's Prospect, thought enough of her to buy her back from the 2001 WTBA summer yearling sale for $100,000.

Fashionable breeding is the norm among Paxton's horses. Paxton's 2-year-olds with McMeans include a homebred half-brother to Bisbee's Passion by Silver Charm, a homebred filly by Arch out of $363,000 earner Firesweeper, a homebred half-sister to local stakes winner Strong Credentials by Smart Strike, and a Deputy Minister filly who cost $550,000 at auction. Also en route from Kentucky is a half-sister to champion 2-year-old filly Countess Diana by Silver Deputy who sold for $700,000 at auction.

McMeans also trains a $750,000 3-year-old Dixieland Band filly, as yet unstarted, for Paxton, as well as the proven older fillies Strikes No Spares, Untamed Passion, and Complete Package.

"All together I have 11 for Jerre, and they are all nice horses," said McMeans. "They make it fun to come to the barn every morning."

One Paxton-McMeans production who will not see action this year is last season's 3-year-old filly champ at Emerald, Lasting Code. A daughter of Lost Code, she underwent surgery to remove ankle chips and is expected to miss her entire 4-year-old season.

Purses starting out smaller

Purses at the 2003 Emerald meet will return to the levels that prevailed at the beginning of the 2002 meet, at least initially, with a bottom purse of $4,300. Two purse increases last year brought the bottom to $4,600, but declines in off-season simulcasting revenues convinced management and horsemen to take a cautious approach.

"It seemed prudent to start out conservatively until we know what the live handle will be," said MaryAnn O'Connell, executive secretary of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "We can always raise purses retroactively, and that's fair for everyone. When you have to cut them, those who win early get more than those who win the same races later in the meeting."

Average purse distribution, including stakes, is expected to be approximately $94,000 per day.

Past leaders returning

With the return to Emerald Downs this season of Frank Gonsalves, who topped the jockey standings in 1997, four of the track's six former leading riders will compete at this meeting. Also riding are Gallyn Mitchell, the top rider in 1999 and 2000; Ben Russell, the 2001 champ; and Kevin Radke, the defending champion. Vann Belvoir, who retired after winning the inaugural riding title in 1996, is back as a trainer, while 1998's leading rider, David Nuesch, is riding in Southern California.

Riding regularly at Emerald for the first time this season are Scott Saito, a local native who has long been among the leading riders at Thistledown; Kevin Murray, who rode throughout the Midwest and South before riding at Portland Meadows last winter; Tuffy Collier, who has been riding in Texas; and apprentice Jorge Carreno, who came here from northern California.

Lloyd back after decade

At least a dozen new or returning trainers will campaign at this meeting, but few of the returnees have been away as long as Margo Lloyd, who hasn't trained since Longacres closed.

"I've been turned out for 10 years, so I should be pretty fresh," she said. "I'm trying to get back up to speed."

Lloyd seemed fully equipped to train at Emerald Downs at entry time on Wednesday, as she was sitting in a golf cart with a stopwatch in one hand and a cell phone in the other."

"I even have a backup cell phone in my pocket," she said. "You can't be too prepared."

* Replays of each day's Emerald races will be televised the following day at 6 a.m. on Fox Sports Net.