08/06/2009 11:00PM

Can anyone test Forener?


AUBURN, Wash. - Forener, a dazzling winner of his first two starts, figures to be a short-priced favorite Sunday at Emerald Downs in the $50,000 Premio Esmeralda, the season's first open stakes race for 2-year-old colts and geldings. Racing begins at 2 p.m., and the Premio Esmeralda, the highlight of a day-long celebration of Hispanic heritage, is the eighth race on the card.

The six-furlong Premio Esmeralda attracted a field of eight. In addition to Forener, the leading contenders include Hollywood Harbor, a five-length winner of the restricted Strong Ruler Stakes in his last start, and recent maiden winner Fisher Creek. But the focus, and a good deal of the wagering action, will be on Forener.

Trained by Vann Belvoir for Keith Swagerty's Swag Stables, Forener won his debut by two lengths over Hollywood Harbor, a result subsequently flattered when Hollywood Harbor rolled to a front-running victory in the Strong Ruler Stakes on July 18.

In his second start, Forener dominated a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race July 19, winning by nine lengths in 1:03. He earned an 82 Beyer Speed Figure, the top rating by an Emerald 2-year-old this season, and left some good horses in his wake, including runner-up Sweet Nellie Brown, a filly who won her debut by more than 17 lengths. Forener sprinted clear under regular rider Gallyn Mitchell, carved 21.60 and 44.80 splits, and coasted through the final furlong. He'll be the one to catch Sunday.

Chris Stenslie, who trains Hollywood Harbor, said last week she would bypass the Premio Esmeralda and point Hollywood Harbor toward the one-mile WTBA Lads Stakes later this month, but she had a change of heart. Hollywood Harbor drew post 7, setting him up for a stalking trip behind Forener, who will break from the rail. Jose Zunino has the riding assignment.

Fisher Creek breezed to a five-length victory in a $20,000 maiden claimer in his only start, a race that has produced two next-out winners. Fisher Creek tuned up for his stakes debut last Saturday, working five furlongs in 1:00.20, the fastest of 15 moves at the distance. He'll be ridden by Seth Martinez for trainer Tim McCanna.

The rest of the field: Koala Beach, who was second behind Hollywood Harbor in the Strong Ruler Stakes; Global News, who has one win in three starts; recent maiden winners Blame the Jockey and Rescue Plan; and Hoodoo Canyon, who rallied from off the pace to win his only start.