04/17/2007 11:00PM

Diligent Prospect all set for opener

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AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs will open its 12th season of racing on Friday with an eight-race card topped by two highly competitive optional claiming races.

The opener, which gets under way at 6 p.m., is the first of 91 programs at the meet, which runs through Sept. 30.

Stakes action at the meet begins on May 6 with the running of the $45,000 Seattle Handicap for older horses. Highlighting the stakes schedule is the $300,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 19. New racing secretary Bret Anderson will offer a series of allowance and optional claiming preps for the stakes through the early days of the meeting, and Friday's co-features are part of the series.

The seventh race, a $50,000 optional claiming test for older horses at 5o1/2 furlongs, brings together a field of 10 stakes hopefuls, led by the razor-sharp Diligent Prospect.

Diligent Prospect, a 5-year-old son of Diligence who races for Ron Whitted's K J Star Stable, is coming off a five-race campaign in the Southwest in which he had two victories, including a stakes win at Sunland Park. He also ran second in two other stakes. His only out-of-the-money finish, a fourth in the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise on Feb. 24, might have been his best performance. He was beaten less than five lengths by Relato Del Gato despite racing wide throughout, and while earning his fourth straight Beyer in the 90s, a 92. Trainer Bill Tollett has named Kate Repp to ride Diligent Prospect at 124 pounds.

Diligent Prospect figures to face stern opposition from stakes winners Livinonlovanadime, Eastern Accent, Don'twritemeoff, Courting Seattle, and Ragin Nonno.

Also on the opening night card is a $50,000 optional claiming test for 3-year-old fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs, which will go as race 6 with a field of nine. The race, which is a prep for the $45,000 U.S. Bank Stakes on May 12, is headed by Irene's Bonus Baby, the winner of the $90,000 Barbara Shinpoch Stakes here last September.

Irene's Bonus Baby will be challenged by Zaylaway, a stakes winner last summer at Hastings Park, and the promising twosome of Blackies Cuttie and Shampoo, who finished first and second in a highly rated allowance race here last September.

Opening night fans receive a fleece blanket emblazoned with the track logo with each paid admission while supplies last.