08/09/2011 3:27PM

Emerald Downs: Division honors on the line in coming stakes


AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs moves into the juiciest part of its summer stakes schedule this week, with division titles up for grabs Saturday in the $65,000 Washington Oaks and Sunday in the $65,000 Emerald Downs Derby – setting the table for the following week, when the Grade 3 Longacres Mile will be renewed for the 76th time Aug. 21.

Nominations for the Oaks and Derby closed last weekend, and entries were to be taken Wednesday. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer nominated two fillies for the Oaks – Alec’s Moon, winner of both the Portland Meadows Oaks and the Portland Meadows Derby, and Cathy’s Crunches, a three-time stakes winner in Northern California. Both of the Hollendorfer nominees are co-owned by Mark Dedomenico of Redmond, Wash. Those potential shippers could be joined by Hastings-based Castinette Dancer in the nine-furlong Oaks, which has been won by an Emerald-based runner in seven of the past eight years.

Carrabelle Harbor, Elusive Noise, and Class Included – all stakes winners at the current meeting – top the list of local contenders for the Oaks.

Hollendorfer also nominated a pair for the Derby – Cody Peak, a stakes-placed son of Thunder Gulch, and Life Is a Rock, a double allowance winner on turf at Golden Gate – and the field also could include Arraignment, one of the leading 3-year-olds at Hastings. Local horses have won the past seven Emerald Derbies, and the pair of Zayda, winner of the past two stakes races for 3-year-olds at Emerald Downs, and Couldabenthewhisky, a troubled second behind Zayda in his last start, could make life difficult for the shippers.

Looking further ahead, the Longacres Mile field began to take shape after nominations closed last Sunday. A total of 28 horses were nominated, led by defending champion Noosa Beach and including eight other graded stakes winners. Hollendorfer again was well represented, with four nominees – Dahoud, Honour the Deputy, Our Nautique, and Whatsthescript – and Bob Baffert nominated a pair – Grade 2 winner Indian Firewater and Spurrier, most recently a fast-closing third in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Trainer Craig Dollase nominated Awesome Gem, who finished second behind Assessment in the 2009 Longacres Mile. Awesome Gem, with lifetime earnings of $2,578,270, would be the richest runner ever to compete in Washington if he were to start in the Mile. Awesome Gem’s most recent victory was in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on Memorial Day.