08/22/2003 12:00AM

Distaff has international flavor


AUBURN, Wash. - The $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff, which heads a stellar undercard on Sunday's Longacres Mile Day program, will feature another of the international match-ups that so enliven Northwest racing.

Canadian star Shelby Madison will make her local debut in the Distaff after finishing first in her last three stakes races at Hastings. Shelby Madison, a 4-year-old daughter of Regal Intention, won the 1 1/8-mile Brighouse Belles by four lengths, then finished first by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile Senate Appointee before being disqualified and placed third. She came back to make her decision stick in the B.C. Breeders Cup Distaff on Aug. 4, leading throughout to score by four lengths.

Shelby Madison will be joined by fellow Canadian Secondary School, who will be making her second local start after finishing third behind Silver Screen Girl in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap on July 20.

Silver Screen Girl and Strikes No Spares, the winner of the one-mile King County Handicap here in June, head the local contenders in the field of nine.

Also sure to garner attention is the razor-sharp Whiskey Til Dawn, who has gained a strong following after posting fast wins over allowance company in her last two outings.

Whiskey Til Dawn, who gets in under 115 pounds, and Shelby Madison, the highweight at 120 pounds, have been selected as the contestants in head-to-head wagering on the Distaff. Fans may bet on one to outfinish the other, regardless of their finish positions.

Plenty of pace for Longacres Mile

Since it was moved to Emerald Downs in 1996, the Grade 3 Longacres Mile has sometimes featured a fast pace, as when Edneator sizzled six furlongs in 1:07.80 en route to his victory in 2001. It has also featured a contested pace, as when Irisheyesareflying and Handy N Bold cruised together through six furlongs in 1:11 before finishing first and second in 2001.

The Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs has never, however, featured a pace that was both fast and contested. That goes a long way toward explaining why speed has dominated the last seven runnings of the Northwest's most prestigious race. Three of the winners - Kid Katabatic, Edneator, and Sabertooth last year - led throughout, while none have come from farther back than third.

That may well change on Sunday, because a fast and contested pace seems unavoidable. Sky Jack, the 123-pound highweight and certain favorite, has led at the first call in the last eight of his nine career victories. Handy N Bold, who has won 11 times, and Sabertooth, who has won five times, have led at the first call in all of their scores. None of the three seems likely to change his formula for success on Sunday.

And there is more speed in the line-up. Salt Grinder is as quick as any horse on the grounds, and Total Limit isn't far behind. Canadian invader Lord Nelson runs from on or very close to the pace, and the same is generally true of California shipper Gondolieri. Even Poker Brad is better described as a stalker than as a closer, as he has come from no more than 1 1/2 lengths off the pace in two stakes wins this year.

The only confirmed closers in Sunday's Mile are Moonlight Meeting and Alfurune, and the surfeit of speed in the field have their connections feeling optimistic.

"Races aren't always run they way they look on paper, but it certainly seems as though we'll have plenty of pace to run at," said Sharon Ross, who trains Moonlight Meeting, the second-place finisher in last year's Mile. "Moonlight Meeting really only has one way of going and he usually needs more ground to get up in time, but an especially fast pace could make a big difference. If he can sit back and relax while the others go crazy up front, it will make his late move that much more effective."

Alfurune may have more tactical speed than Moonlight Meeting, but he has come from well back to run second, first, and third in three route stakes at this meet. Part-owner and assistant trainer Diane Garrison sees no need to change his style on Sunday.

"With all the speed entered, the race should set up for a closer," she said. "Alfurune seems to have decided that he wants to come from behind, so we'll just let him do his thing. We'll ask him to run at the three-eighths pole and see what happens. He'll have to be awfully lucky to win, but that's probably true for everybody. There are a lot of nice horses in this race, and any of them could probably win with the right trip."

Memorial service held for Linden

Memorial services were held on Thursday for longtime Daily Racing Form employee Mike Linden, who died last weekend at the age of 65.

After joining the Seattle branch of Daily Racing Form in 1978, Linden served first as a linotype operator and back-up pressman, then as a laser scanner operator and finally as a production manager before retiring at the end of 2001.

Linden is survived by his wife, Karen; children Kathy, Dave, and Bob; and two grandchildren. Bob Linden works at the Seattle branch of Daily Racing Form as a pressman.