09/04/2009 11:00PM

Distance, track condition Emerald Derby variables


AUBURN, Wash. - The possibility of a muddy track and a daunting nine furlongs make Monday's $75,000 Emerald Derby one of the summer's most intriguing races. The main event on a 10-race holiday card, Emerald Downs's marquee race for 3-year-olds attracted a couple of shippers and most, but not all, of the locally based division leaders. Peaceful Reign, an impressive winner of the 1 1/16-mile Seattle Slew Handicap in his last start, figures to be the wagering favorite, with Winning Machine not far behind.

Unraced at 2, Peaceful Reign climbed to the top of the division with his front-running 4 1/2-length victory in the Seattle Slew, just 12 weeks after owner Howard E. Maggard claimed him out of a $30,000 maiden race. Trained by Vann Belvoir, Peaceful Reign finished third in the 6 1/2-furlong Pepsi-Cola Handicap in his first start following the claim, and then missed by a head to Winning Machine in the one-mile Tacoma Handicap before his victory in the Seattle Slew.

"I think it will be a competitive race," Belvoir said of the derby. "A lot depends on the pace scenario. We could lay off them if we have to. The distance is a question, I suppose, though none of these have gone that far. Speed usually does pretty well at a mile and one-eighth."

Monday's forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 60s and a 60 percent chance of rain. Heavy rains were expected Saturday and Sunday.

"I'm hoping he'll like the mud," Belvoir said of Peaceful Reign, a son of Liberty Gold from the Halo mare Peaceful Wings. "That's another obstacle we'll have to deal with."

Trainer Doris Harwood will saddle Winning Machine in the derby while passing with three-time stakes winner Noosa Beach, who will run instead in the $50,000 Trooper Seven Stakes on Washington Cup Day next Sunday. Winning Machine and Noosa Beach have taken turns beating each other in three meetings this summer.

"I think Winning Machine has a good chance in the derby; I think he can win this thing," Harwood said. "He's coming into the race really well. As for Noosa Beach, he's a Washington-bred, and I finally get to split them up. The Washington Cup race is at a flat mile, and he'll be tough in there."

Winning Machine has two firsts, a second, and a third in four starts this year. Emerald's leading rider, Ricky Frazier, has the call.

"Ricky likes him because the horse will do anything - he'll rate, go to the front, whatever you want," Harwood said. "His stride is as big as Noosa Beach's, even though he's barely 15 hands and Noosa is close to 17. But Vann's horse is the one to beat; that's the one I'm looking to outrun."