08/16/2013 12:54PM

Emerald Downs: Distaff distance huge question mark for Exclusive Diva

Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Exclusive Diva is 6 for 7 in sprint stakes, but may have trouble stretching her speed to 1 1/8 miles for the Emerald Distaff.

AUBURN, Wash. – Exclusive Diva, an undeniable force in sprint stakes at Emerald Downs, will try to carry her speed over a demanding nine furlongs Sunday when she headlines the $65,000 Emerald Distaff Handicap on the Longacres Mile undercard. A victory would further Exclusive Diva’s status as the Northwest’s leading older filly or mare, while a defeat would add fuel to the notion that route distances are beyond her scope.

Exclusive Diva, a homebred for Jerre Paxton’s Northwest Farms, has won 6 of 7 sprint starts, including three stakes, but her record around two turns has been shaky: just 1 victory in 5 starts, with each loss coming as the even-money or odds-on favorite. Since winning her debut in 2011, Exclusive Diva, by Bernardini, has gone to post at odds of 8-5 or less in 10 of 11 starts.

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She will carry 121 pounds, two fewer than highweight and possible favorite Evelyn’s Dancer, who was assigned 123 pounds on the heels of a front-running victory in the 1 1/16-mile Monashee Handicap at Hastings in her most recent start. Exclusive Diva and Evelyn’s Dancer are similar – 4-year-old fillies with abundant speed and a growing stockpile of stakes wins – though with Evelyn’s Dancer, there are no questions about her ability to go long: She has five stakes victories at Hastings at 1 1/16 miles or longer.

Evelyn’s Dancer, who races for Glen Todd and Mark Dedomenico and is trained at Hastings by Troy Taylor, will have the services of jockey Aaron Gryder, a former mainstay in Southern California and now Todd’s go-to rider in Vancouver. Juan Gutierrez, the leading jockey at Emerald Downs, will ride Exclusive Diva for trainer Tom Wenzel.

With Exclusive Diva and Evelyn’s Dancer as formidable headliners, only five others were entered in the Distaff, and only one of those – E Z Kitty – profiles as a serious contender.

Like the two favorites, E Z Kitty is inclined to race forwardly in the early stages, increasing the possibility of a fast and contested pace. E Z Kitty has two stakes victories at one mile. As with Exclusive Diva, however, the additional 220 yards in the Distaff could be a sticking point.

Others in the field are Whiskey Miner, who is winless in five starts in the claiming ranks this year; Royal Moses, a late-running sprinter who is 0 for 6 at distances of a mile or longer; Champagneandcaviar, who upset Exclusive Diva in the nine-furlong Washington Oaks in 2012 but has lost her two starts this year by a combined 32 lengths; and Wando Woman, a Hastings-based mare in the throes of a 13-race losing streak.