10/12/2006 12:00AM

Courting Seattle ships from Emerald


ALBANY, Calif. - There is an X factor in Saturday's $50,000-added Hays Valley Stakes at Golden Gate Fields - the stakes winner Courting Seattle, who leaves the friendly confines of Emerald Downs to make his first start here for trainer Howard Belvoir. The

1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds drew a field of five.

In nine career starts, Courting Seattle has missed the board only once, with an 11th in the Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby at 1 1/8 miles, which Belvoir admits is probably farther than he wants to go.

"He's kind of an ideal little horse," Belvoir said. "He's kind of like a bulldog."

Courting Seattle is on the small side, and he was bumped hard at the start, had to sit behind horses, and wound up wide on both turns, problems that have Belvoir drawing a red line through the race.

Courting Seattle won the six-furlong Auburn Handicap in his first start of 2006. He has also placed in four other stakes during his career, including a second in the one-mile Tacoma Handicap and a third in the Seattle Slew Breeders' Cup Handicap at Saturday's 1 1/16-mile distance.

As much as he likes the gutsy gelding, Belvoir has some concerns coming into the race.

"I'd prefer shorter," he said. "He just ran two weeks ago," losing a photo at six furlongs, "and I wanted to run him short. At least this is a 3-year-old race, and there aren't many of those left. And, since I'm stabled here, he doesn't have to ship."

Belvoir expects Courting Seattle to be on the lead or close to it, although, he says, "He can do anything."

Distance, he concedes, is a question, but, he said, "It seems horses carry their speed better here. I've seen a number that fade at Emerald that continue strongly here."

Bold Chieftain is the likely favorite in the Hays Valley. He's never failed to pick up a check, has 3 victories in 6 starts, and has placed in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby and the $100,000 Real Good Deal.

He makes his third start following a six-month layoff and comes off a game victory when he set the pace in a turf allowance race.

Passive Income, coming off a seven-week freshener, is a stakes winner at the distance here, having won the North Beach on a muddy track on April 15. He was second in high-priced optional claiming company at Del Mar in his past two starts.

Ransomer and Where's My Halo round out the field.