05/24/2012 4:21PM

Emerald Downs: First Last Chance back home after brief stint in Kentucky

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AUBURN, Wash. – Promising 3-year-old First Last Chance, after a winter detour to Kentucky, will headline Saturday’s feature race at Emerald Downs. The card begins at 2 p.m. Pacific, and the feature, a first-level optional $25,000 claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs, is the eighth of nine races.

The purse is a robust $18,000, yet with the Auburn Handicap just a week away, only five horses were signed on for Saturday’s race. The field includes a pair of speedy front-runners, and three others, including First Last Chance, who do their best running from off the pace.

Trainer John Holmes owns a piece of First Last Chance along with Ken Jochimsen, who bred the son of You and I and made the decision to send the horse to Churchill Downs last fall after First Last Chance captured his maiden victory at Emerald. In his first start in Kentucky, in a one-mile starter allowance, First Last Chance rallied to finish second behind a next-out winner.

In his second, a $48,000 first-level allowance at six furlongs, he made a menacing move while losing ground on the turn, lugged out at the top of the lane, and faded to finish a distant sixth. He has been idle since Thanksgiving, with a steady work tab on display for his Emerald homecoming.

First Last Chance will have a new rider as Juan Gutierrez takes over for Leslie Mawing, who steered First Last Chance to his maiden victory in September. Mawing will ride Faster Than Duke, another intriguing closer who has been away for many months. Faster Than Duke closed stoutly to win his only start, a $25,000 maiden claimer at 5- /2 furlongs last August.

First Last Chance and Faster Than Duke stand to benefit if the pace is quick, and with Harbor Wind and Italian Boy in the lineup, such a scenario seems likely. Harbor Wind got used up in a speed duel in his first start of the meeting but stuck around well enough to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 63. That’s better than anything posted by his four rivals, and Harbor Wind will be formidable if allowed to set a relaxed pace.

Italian Boy is quick, too, but maybe not quite as fast as Harbor Wind. Racing fitness could be a concern as well – Italian Boy won a maiden claimer by nearly 10 lengths last July but hasn’t been seen since.

Don’t Be Coy Roy, victorious in an $8,000 maiden claimer at Turf Paradise in November, rounds out the field.