09/16/2010 12:04PM

Could be Starbird Road's swan song


AUBURN, Wash. – If the weather cooperates, Starbird Road will make what could be his final start Saturday at Emerald Downs, capping a brilliant but star-crossed career for one of the fastest sprinters in Northwest racing history.

The occasion is a $10,000 claimer for older horses, a concession to advancing age and a list of infirmities that robbed Starbird Road of two complete seasons and long stretches of several others. Indeed, the 9-year-old gelding has taken the term “lightly raced” to ridiculous extremes – he has started just 28 times, and never more than seven times in a calendar year.

Starbird Road won his last start, a $15,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles. It was his first victory around two turns, and just his second attempt beyond a sprint distance. Saturday’s race is at a mile. Sharon Ross, who owns the horse in partnership with Rick Beal, and trains him in partnership with her husband, Larry, said the distance won’t be an issue, but a wet racetrack might force her to make other plans. The forecast called for a 70 percent chance of rain both Friday and Saturday.

“He’s not going to run if it’s muddy,” Ross said. “I’m just trying to take it easy on the guy. He probably won’t race next year, I don’t think I’d run him as a 10-year-old, so this is probably his swan song. But I’d never do anything to hurt him.”

Beal claimed Starbird Road as a 2-year-old for $25,000 and turned him over to the Rosses. After missing his 3-year-old season, he emerged as a formidable allowance sprinter at 4 and reached a career peak the following season, winning 5 of 6 starts, including three stakes. In a two-week span that summer of ‘06, he ran six furlongs in 1:07.40, setting a track record, and five furlongs in 55.40, tying the standard.

“His 5-year-old year, you couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Ross said. “He was pretty much unbeatable. Then he wins the Seattle Handicap the first time out at 6, but in his second race, he and Flamethrowintexan tried to kill each other, and neither horse was ever the same after that.”

Starbird Road suffered a career-threatening ligament injury, underwent a radical stem-cell treatment and spent two years on the sideline, only to suffer a less serious injury last summer in his third start. His victory Aug. 21 was his first in 39 long months.

“It was fun to get a win,” Ross said. “Starman was happy.”