06/29/2006 12:00AM

'Columbo' tough off last victory

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AUBURN, Wash. - A field of nine older sprinters, including seven coming off wins, will knock heads in Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong feature at Emerald Downs. The race is run under $25,000 optional claiming conditions, but only Call Columbo runs for the claiming price.

Call Columbo may very well be the one to beat, however, as he is coming off a game win under the same conditions on June 10. In that race, at six furlongs, he came from third to nail the front-running On the Ave by a neck in 1:09.20. It was only his second start for trainer Carlos Moreno, who claimed him out of a narrow loss in $20,000 company here in April.

In his first race after the claim, Call Columbo lost by a nose to Typhoon Aaron in the six-furlong Redline Invitational Handicap at Portland Meadows on May 7. Jose Zunino, who rode Call Columbo last out, again has the mount.

The stretch-running Call Columbo should have ample pace to target, as at least three of his opponents on Saturday appear to need the lead to succeed.

Chief among them is Gold Rush Banker, who won 4 of 7 starts here last year. Gold Rush Banker tired late to finish second in his first start at this meeting, a $15,000 starter-allowance race at six furlongs, but he had reason to be short that day because he had not raced since January. He faces a tough battle on the lead, however, as Westsideclyde to his inside and Free Cocktails to his outside appear to have comparable speed.