04/14/2011 2:20PM

Emerald Downs: First-timers with a future

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AUBURN, Wash. – Potential is the word in the seventh race Saturday at Emerald Downs. A five-furlong dash for 3-year-old maidens, the race attracted nine entrants, several with intriguing back stories, and while potential is a polite way of saying you haven’t done anything yet, no one will be surprised if some of Saturday’s runners graduate to stakes competition in the very near future.

A pair of first-time starters, El Gran Bebe and Avalon Beach, are sure to attract strong support in the betting. El Gran Bebe, trained by Jim Penney for owners Mike and Amy Feuerborn, is a half-brother to Include the Baby, a rollicking winner in her debut last summer. El Gran Bebe’s dam, Washington Oaks winner Bianconi Baby, captured her first career start by 10 lengths. It follows that El Gran Bebe, by Florida Derby winner Friends Lake, is a candidate to hit the ground running.

Avalon Beach is a full brother to Koala Beach, a two-time stakes winner as a juvenile in 2009 and triumphant in the one-mile Pepsi-Cola Handicap in his second start at 3. The Doris Harwood-trained stablemates, both owned wholly or in partnership by Harwood’s husband, Jeff, will get to compare notes Saturday evening after competing in consecutive races. Koala Beach, making his 4-year-old debut, is entered in the featured eighth race, a $15,000 claimer for older horses at 5 1/2 furlongs.

But back to the seventh race.

Among those who’ve already raced, Rezar, twice a runner-up in five starts last summer, and Showme Yourfriends, second in his only start, would seem to have the best chance. Rezar, previously trained by Vann Belvoir, will make his 2011 debut for Blaine Wright after a series of slow but steady works. Showme Yourfriends, trained by Chris Stenslie, has been sharp in the morning and will try blinkers for the first time Saturday.

Murray the Cop, from the stable of perennial leading trainer Tim McCanna, flashed speed in his two starts last year. He’s been working up a storm, and his early lick could be a valuable asset going five furlongs.

Those with upset potential (there’s that word again) include Majorca Gold and Big Bad Brown. Both hinted at vast ability in 2010 but were compromised by troubled trips. Big Bad Brown, trained by Penney, broke five lengths behind the field in his only start. Majorca Gold, who races for Frank Lucarelli, displayed tactical speed in two starts before shutting down in late July.