05/31/2012 4:21PM

Emerald Downs: Aaron the Baron suited to a mile

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AUBURN, Wash. – It will be a Mile Day of sorts Saturday at Emerald Downs, with five of the nine races to be contested over eight furlongs. A couple of the leading contenders in the feature race – a second-level $32,000 optional claimer – could have designs on an even bigger mile – the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in August.

But first things first for Aaron the Baron, El Gran Bebe, and the other four horses in a compact field of six. With the exception of Showme Yourfriends, who won the Auburn Handicap during his 3-year-old season, none of the horses has established himself as a stakes contender. A victory Saturday could be a positive step in that direction.

Aaron the Baron, a talented but star-crossed 5-year-old, has made just nine career starts, missing 2- and 3-year-old campaigns before making his debut with a snappy victory in a 5-1/2-furlong maiden race in April 2011. His two starts this year have been outstanding; Aaron the Baron rallied to finish second behind Hollywood Harbor in his season debut April 22 – a race in which Hollywood Harbor shattered the North American dirt record for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Aaron the Baron took a small step back in his second start, but he had some ready excuses, including a tardy break from the gate, and a racing surface on May 20 that was highly conducive to speed on the rail. That race was at six furlongs; Aaron the Baron profiles as a better horse around two turns, the farther they run the better. Leslie Mawing has the riding assignment for trainer Doris Harwood.

El Gran Bebe ripped off a three-race winning streak on the grass at Golden Gate over the winter, but after a layoff of more than four months, gave way after pressing a fast pace in his return to the Emerald Downs dirt on April 29. Speed is El Gran Bebe’s calling card, and he figures to be prominently placed in the early stages under Juan Gutierrez. If Washington Hall of Fame trainer Jim Penney has done the necessary tightening, El Gran Bebe figures to be a factor from start to finish.

The wild card could be Amazing Legacy, a 4-year-old who crushed maiden claimers in his first start of the year and has the pedigree – he’s a half-brother to 2007 Longacres Mile winner The Great Face – to thrive at the distance. Amazing Legacy has worked twice since his victory, including a best-of-the-morning five-furlong drill last week.