08/31/2011 4:46PM

Emerald Downs: Buddy Dave battles for title as meet's top claimer


AUBURN, Wash. – While it’s a given Noosa Beach will be named horse of the meeting when Emerald Downs wraps its season Sept. 25, there’s a fascinating battle being waged a little farther down the food chain, where Buddy Dave and Touch of Elegance are sparring for claimer-of-the-meeting honors.

The front-running Touch of Elegance blitzed $12,500 fillies and mares last Saturday for her sixth victory in seven starts. The late-running Buddy Dave will shoot for his sixth victory in his past seven starts in the sixth race Friday, a $7,500 claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs. If he succeeds, the claimer-of-the-meeting debate could carry all the way into late September.

Buddy Dave will face five rivals, and Mark Simpson, who put together the syndicate that owns the 4-year-old Five Star Day gelding, said year-end honors are very much on his mind.

“Oh heck ya, if we’re in the running, I want it,” Simpson said. “It would be a fun thing to get. The thing that makes this race good is that another horse with five wins, Untilifindyou, is in there with us. He’s beaten Dave twice, but it was early in the meet when Davie was just getting going.”

Buddy Dave has been on a tear since mid-May, when he finished second in a bottom-level claimer for nonwinners of three. He has won five of six starts since then, losing the other by a neck, while climbing through the $2,500, $3,500, and $5,000 claiming levels. In his last start, Buddy Dave got up in the final yards after being carried far wide at the top of the stretch.

“He likes it on the outside,” trainer Vince Gibson explained. “He’s kind of small, so when he gets down inside, he gets banged around, and that’s hard on him. He’s running tough. But now he’s jumping up, and we’ll see if he can handle it.”

Simpson purchased Buddy Dave at Keeneland in 2008, paying $5,500, and the horse has earned about seven times that amount in 25 career starts. Simpson named the horse after his son Dave, 22, a recent Washington State University graduate.

After an up-and-down 3-year-old year, Buddy Dave has flourished since being paired with unheralded jockey Leonel Camacho-Flores this spring.

“Leonel is really coming around,” Simpson said. “I love the kid. Vince taught him to ride out at his place, and to me, he’s potentially one of the best riders out there. He listens, he learns, and he does what the trainer asks him to do. He gives you the ride you ask for, every time.”