07/06/2004 12:00AM

Briartic Gold and rider win first stakes

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AUBURN, Wash. - Seven-year-old Briartic Gold and comebacking rider Debbie Hoonan teamed to win the first stakes of their careers in Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap at Emerald Downs - and in so doing they knocked expectations for next month's Grade 3 Longacres Mile into a cocked hat.

The Independence Day was supposed to belong to Poker Brad, the runner-up to Sky Jack in last year's Mile and the 4-5 favorite in a field of eight on Sunday. Poker Brad flattened out badly to finish fifth after stalking the early pace, and leading rider Ricky Frazier, who had an otherwise splendid day with five wins, could offer no excuse.

"He just didn't run his race," Frazier said. "I was confident coming in, but he didn't run like he can."

It was a good second to Poker Brad in a mile allowance race that convinced trainer Sharon Ross to enter Briartic Gold in last month's Budweiser Emerald Handicap, a race in which he finished third to Demon Warlock and Poker Brad. That effort encouraged Ross to wheel him back in the Independence Day.

"I figured if Poker Brad was supposed to be the best on the grounds, I'd take a shot," Ross said.

Briartic Gold took advantage of his opportunity, stalking the pace of Canadian invader Metatron through six furlongs in a moderate 1:11, then reining that one in near the wire to prevail by half-length in 1:41.40. Metatron held second by a nose over the fast-finishing Mr. Makah.

It was the 12th career win for Briartic Gold, who won his 2-year-old debut for Ross here in 1999. The next year owners Ty Scheumann, Charlie Swanson, and David Wright sent Briartic Gold to trainer Valorie Lund, who campaigned him mainly at Turf Paradise.

"This spring they called and asked me if I'd take him back," Ross said. "I said, 'In a minute.' "

Ross and her husband, trainer Larry Ross, have a special affinity for old geldings. The couple first made a name for themselves with the veterans Brandon's Brandy and Marketall at Longacres in the early 1980's, and they have since won stakes with such old-timers as Military Hawk, Dash Eight, Crowning Meeting, and Moonlight Meeting.

"They're so cool," Ross said of the older horses. "If you leave them alone, they train themselves. That's really the key to older horses. When they feel like training, they train - and when they don't, give them the day off. They know what it takes."

If a stakes win was a long time coming for Briartic Gold, it took even longer for rider Debbie Hoonan. Hoonan launched a promising apprenticeship at Northwest tracks in 1988, but weight problems forced her into an early retirement in 1992.

She returned to riding at this meeting after 12 years away, including three years of galloping for Sharon Ross, and currently ranks sixth in the standings with 24 wins. Nine of those wins have come aboard Ross horses.

"Debbie knows my horses well from all the work she did for me over the last three years," Ross said. "Since she started riding again I haven't been able to get her as often, but she still makes time to gallop a few for me. She has been getting on Briartic Gold for the past couple of weeks, and I think that helped. I'm really glad for her, and for the horse. This was fun."

Longacres Mile ins and outs

Ross said Briartic Gold will not be pointed toward the Longacres Mile, and Poker Brad's uncharacteristically dull performance on Sunday casts his participation in doubt. Willie the Cat, a dual stakes winner at the meeting, has also been withdrawn from Mile consideration after failing to get the distance in the Budweiser Emerald. Will there be any locals in this year's renewal of the track's most prestigious event?

At present the most likely candidates appear to be Demon Warlock, who skipped the Independence Day after an ultra-game win in the Budweiser Emerald, and the Bonnie Jenne-trained full brothers Mr. Makah and Colony Lane. The 4-year-old Mr. Makah continued a sharply improving pattern with his third on Sunday, while Colony Lane, who won last year's Washington Cup Classic, made his 5-year-old debut on Monday with an encouraging third to Best on Tap in a six-furlong optional claiming race run in 1:08.40.

* Packy, a 2-year-old son of Petersburg trained by Terry Gillihan, made a spectacular debut on Monday, when he won a five-furlong maiden special weight race by 7 1/2 lengths in 57.20 seconds, the fastest clocking for the distance by a 2-year-old at Emerald Downs. Packy, who races for Larry and Veralene Hillis's West Ridge Ranch LLC, is named in memory of bloodstock agent L.L. "Packy" McMurry, who died last year.

* Flamethrowintexan, who was claimed by owner Paul Heist for $62,500 in his last start at Hollywood Park on June 24, has arrived in the barn of trainer Jim Penney to prepare for a possible start in the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 6. Flamethrowintexan, a son of Way West and the Citidancer matron Willalady, has won 5 of 8 career starts and has $99,275 in earnings. He has not yet tasted stakes company, nor has he raced around two turns, but he has won each of his last three outings against high claimers going 6 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood.