04/27/2012 3:34PM

Emerald Downs: D'honorable One has stakes potential

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AUBURN, Wash. – D’honorable One, expected to be a factor in the 3-year-old stakes picture this summer at Emerald Downs, will make his first local start of 2012 in Sunday’s co-featured eighth race, a no-conditons allowance at six furlongs.

D’honorable One has made four career starts for owner Heidi Nelson. He was a smashing maiden winner at Emerald last July, finished third as the betting favorite in a stakes race in his first try against winners, and then captured a first-level optional claimer at Golden Gate in February following a six-month layoff.

“He’s been doing really well,” trainer Blaine Wright said Friday from Golden Gate, where he was preparing Hudson Landing for a start Saturday in the $150,000 San Francisco Mile. “We won our first condition, but then we couldn’t get back in. We had a race picked out at Santa Anita, but he got a little sick on me and we had to pull an audible and wait.

“We’ve been down here all winter with him and been able to run him one time. It’s no fault but my own because I ran him last year when I shouldn’t have and it cost me three months.”

Wright said D’honorable One wasn’t at his best Aug. 7 when he started in the Premio Esmeralda Stakes at Emerald. But the horse is feeling his oats these days, Wright said, and he expects a big effort Sunday.

“He’s come home and he’s ready. Our original plan was to run at Hastings next week in a stakes race, but Mrs. Nelson and I weighed our options and the big benefit to running here is we get to stay home whether we win or lose.”

“He’s a bit of a hard horse to train,” Wright said. “Every time you change the scenery with him, you kind of have to start over. I’m happy this race filled and we’ve got an opportunity to run at home. It’s no walkover by any means. We drew the one hole, which sometimes can be a funny thing for a horse. We’ll see where it puts us.”

Nelson paid $92,000 for D’honorable One at an auction of 2-year-olds in training in Ocala, Fla., in March 2011.

“Heidi did all the work picking him out at the sale,” Wright said. “We had a price range in mind, and a couple of them we had to throw out. My pick ran second in the Breeders’ Cup, but we didn’t want to go over budget. Actually, we did go a little over with D’honorable One, but I’m very happy with the results.”

D’honorable One is by D’wildcat, a speed influence, from the unraced Pentelicus mare Silver Shannon. He has yet to race around two turns, but Wright envisions a horse who excels at middle distances.

“I think he’ll get a mile for sure. He trains like a route horse; his stamina level is really good,” Wright said. “When he breezes six, he gallops out seven really strong. If he stays sound, we’ll get a chance to route him this year. He’s got a lot of natural speed if you want to use it. He would be forwardly placed going long.”

“We’ve got him pointed to a campaign at Emerald Downs,” Wright said, with the nine-furlong Emerald Derby on Aug. 12 the dangling carrot. “He’s a good horse who has beaten some good horses. He came off a six-month layoff and ran great. Hopefully, he stays in form for us.”

Few Quarter Horses available to race

Quarter Horse racing, introduced at Emerald Downs in 2011 to fortify a shrinking horse population, will be little more than a novelty act in 2012.

Jack Hodge, Emerald Downs’s vice president, said he planned for 66 Quarter Horse races last summer and ended up staging just 18. Average field size was 6.61 runners per race.

With Portland Meadows now overlapping with Emerald for the final 10 weeks of the meeting, Hodge anticipates many of the owners and trainers limiting their focus to Portland, where there are Quarter Horse races daily.

Still on Emerald’s stakes schedule is the Bank of America Challenge Championship on Sept. 2, a 440-yard dash with a $60,000 purse. The race was a hit at Emerald last year. But with so few horses to go around, creating a regular schedule for the breed is beyond reach for now. Emerald director of racing Bret Anderson put 10 Quarter Horse races in his first condition book, and none of them filled.

Favorites dominating so far

With 51 races in the books through the first six racing dates, average field size was 6.16 horses per race, off 8 percent from the corresponding date a year ago.

Favorites dominated early in the meeting, not a surprise given the short fields. Twenty-seven of the initial 51 races – 53 percent – were won by the betting choice.

The fastest horse at the meeting to date: Hollywood Harbor, who was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 for his scintillating victory in an allowance race last Sunday. Hollywood Harbor set a North American dirt record when he ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:00.87.