07/11/2003 12:00AM

Condotierri packs late punch


AUBURN, Wash. - Condotierri takes a while to get rolling, but he can be hard to resist once he hits his stride.

That statement seems to apply equally to his running style and racing schedule. Last season at 2, Condotierri, a stoutly bred son of Candy Stripes and the Silver Hawk mare Bermuda Petrel, didn't win his maiden until his third start July 21. But he ended up winning Emerald's richest race for juveniles, the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles, in his fifth and final start of the year in September.

Trainer Craig Roberts, who owns Condotierri in partnership with Bob and Judy Pavalunas and Keith Redd, hopes he can repeat the pattern in Saturday's $40,000 Tacoma Handicap, the first of two 1 1/16-mile stepping-stones to the $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby at nine furlongs Sept. 1. Condotierri is on schedule so far, having followed an even fifth in the 6 1/2-furlong Pepsi Cola Handicap with a pair of closing second-place finishes in allowance races at one mile.

"I thought he ran very well last time," Roberts said. "The track was a little speed-biased that day and we had to move him sooner than we wanted to have a shot at catching Mr. Elusive, who was the only speed in the field. He fell a little short, but he was gaining at the end. There is more speed in this race, and it is a sixteenth of a mile farther. I've got to think both of those things will work to his advantage.

"The thing that won't work to his advantage is the big field. He'll need to have some racing luck to find running room when he needs it, but that is usually the case with closers. He is coming up to it really well, though. If he gets his chance to run, I think he is ready to take advantage of it."

'Road' is horse for course

Knightsbridge Road seems the likely favorite for the Tacoma, and that will be a first. Though he has won two stakes races at Emerald and has never finished worse than third in 10 local starts, the only time he was favored came in his lone outing at Portland Meadows.

Knightsbridge Road was the second choice to the heavily favored Leather N Lace in last month's Table Run Stakes at one mile. He defeated that rival by 5 1/2 lengths after dueling with him throughout. Trainer Debbie Van Horne hopes to see a similar performance Sunday.

"We had been trying to bring him from off the pace, but he went so well on the lead last time that I have to think that is the way he wants to run," Van Horne said. "He actually relaxed very well, even though he was head and head with Leather N Lace, and it is good to know he can do that. His best races have come from close to the lead, but I know he needs to relax to get 1 1/16 miles. If he can do both things at once, that's great."

The trainer bred Knightsbridge Road, a son of Cisco Road and Southern Choice, by Knights Choice, in partnership with her sister, Shonda Van Horne, and she retains a share in his ownership.

"It has been really fun to watch him grow up, and then to be able to train him and see him do so well," she said. "It's nice to be able to come to the barn every day and see him waiting for me. He makes me look forward to coming to work."

'Lace' best on fast tracks

Anyone looking at the pedigree of Leather N Lace, who is by Slewdledo and out of a mare by Pappagallo, would assume he relishes off tracks. On the evidence of his performance in the Table Run, which was contested over a muddy surface, that is not the case.

"He really didn't handle the track that day, and I was afraid he wouldn't," trainer Rick Terry said. "In the mornings, if the track is even a little loose he doesn't stride out the way he can. I feel he needs the track to be tight.

"Other than that, I don't have any concerns about him. I think he'll handle the distance and the pace just fine. I just hope the track is tight and fair. If he still gets beat, then I'll have to live with it."

No racing at Playfair

The Washington Horse Racing Commission closed the book on Eric Nelson's attempt to revive racing at Playfair in its meeting Thursday, terminating his license without prejudice.

Still to be determined is what will happen to the $379,650 in Playfair's purse account that was accrued from simulcasting.

Also at Thursday's commission meeting, president Ron Crockett reported that the total daily handle at Emerald's meet is running 6.8 percent below last year's pace at $1.13 million. Crockett said most of the decline can be attributed to a 10.9 percent decrease in out-of-state handle on Emerald's signal.

On the other hand, Crockett said daily average purse distribution is right on target at about $89,000 and that he expects neither an overpayment nor an underpayment at the conclusion of the meet.