09/07/2012 4:51PM

Emerald Downs: Essex's pair will be trying to hang on at finish

Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Makors Finale, winner of the Emerald Derby, will be the one to beat in Sunday's Chinook Pass Stakes.

AUBURN, Wash. – In racing lexicon, “getting a lot of calls” as the front-runner is a good thing, and Sunday, two speedy horses trained by Charles Essex will get plenty of calls from track announcer Robert Geller during Washington Cup Day at Emerald Downs.

Essex will send out Tough Road Ahead in $35,000 Chinook Pass Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and River of Aces in the $35,000 John and Kitty Fletcher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both races are at one mile, and while the Essex runners figure to contest the pace in their respective races, neither one has ever raced around two turns. They’ll get a lot of calls, but will they get the last one?

“Both of the horses I have in, it’s questionable if they can route,” Essex said Friday. “I think they’ll settle eventually, but it’s a little early in their careers right now.”

Tough Road Ahead ran the best race of his life in his last start Aug. 23, missing by a length in a first-level allowance sprint after dueling through a half-mile in 43.76 seconds. It’s no secret he’ll go to the front in his first route attempt, though once he gets there, he’s likely to have his hands full with Emerald Derby hero Makors Finale, a three-time stakes winner at the meeting.

“Tough Road Ahead is a nice little horse,” Essex said. “He seems to be improving. It’s just kind of a shame we have to run him against who we have to run him against. That’s the shame of that race – he came up against one really good horse. We’ll see if he can route. It will be hard to come out of a 43 race and get him to go 46. I don’t know if we can slow him down enough. Hopefully, he can hold on and run second.”

River of Aces would seem to have a better chance in the Fletcher, simply because there’s no overwhelming favorite to contend with. But like Tough Road Ahead, she’ll need to relax in the early going and save something for the stretch, all while swimming in uncharted waters. Sire Sam’s Ace, by Meadowlake, was a sprinter, and River of Aces, an Essex homebred, was one of his first foals.

“My dad bred her, she was pulled out of the mare by my dad,” Essex said. “It’s a whole family deal, that one. But it’s such an unknown with that sire. He’s pretty new. I bet he doesn’t have 10 babies total. But she’s a happy little filly. She’s going to be speed in there coming off those sprint races. She’s going to be awful sharp. She has worked well, and I concentrated on getting her slowed down a little bit.”

The Fletcher attracted seven runners and looks to be wide open, though Essex is most concerned with two of them: “Royal Moses coming late, and Chris Stenslie’s horse, Talk to My Lawyer. She’s not real consistent, but she looked awful good in her last race without a real clean trip.”

Mike Man’s Gold will be challenged

Mike Man’s Gold has dominated Emerald’s 2-year-old male division, winning each of his three starts, including two stakes races. He’ll be a strong favorite Sunday in the $35,000 Dennis Dodge Stakes, but an improving horse from Dan Markle’s barn, Cariboo Road, is a threat to end his winning streak.

After fading to finish third behind Mike Man’s Gold in the Premio Esmeralda Stakes in late July, Cariboo Road returned Aug. 25 to win an allowance race with relative ease. The colt, by Cahill Road, worked four furlongs in 46.20 on Monday, and all signs point to a peak effort in the Dennis Dodge.

“That was a nice easy race for him, and it gave him a lot of confidence,” Markle said of Cariboo Road’s recent victory. “Ever since then, he’s been thinking he’s the man. He’s so cool, I should get some sunglasses for him. He’s doing real good. If anyone stubs their toe, they’re going to be in trouble.”

Roveing Patrol ready for second go

The intent of the Washington Cup is to reward owners and breeders of horses foaled in the state or sired by stallions standing in Washington, and perhaps no one defines the target audience more than trainer Don Munger, who will send out his homebred, Roveing Patrol, in the $35,000 Diane Kem Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Munger owns both Roveing Patrol’s sire, Nacheezmo, who stands at Munger’s farm in Enumclaw, Wash., and her dam, Gutty Gerddy.

Roveing Patrol has raced just once, winning a $12,500 maiden claimer in June with a powerful closing kick. Munger has been waiting patiently for another chance, giving Roveing Patrol a series of slow maintenance works, punctuated by a fast six-furlong gate move two weeks ago. In a race full of unproven horses, Roveing Patrol has as good a chance as any.

“She’s doing great,” Munger said. “We won the first filly race of the season, and we just had to sit in the stall for two months. Getting ready for this, we worked her six furlongs out of the gate with company to substitute for a race, and she black lettered in that. She’s looking good and sound. I expect her to run great. I’m not sure about strategy, whether to send her or take off the pace, because you don’t have much of a line on the other horses. But she’ll run good.”

A victory would be especially sweet for Munger, who has never won a stakes race at Emerald Downs and turns 89 in December.

“I can’t remember the last stakes win, it’s been a number of years,” he said. “I think it might have been the derby at Portland. The older I get, the more I realize they’re further and farther between, those stakes races, and when you win them, you appreciate it more each time.”