05/04/2011 2:12PM

Emerald Downs: Gdanz Xpress likely to be favored in return


AUBURN, Wash. – Praise a Native, an impressive winner on opening night, and Gdanz Xpress, stakes-placed twice in 2010, headline Friday’s feature race at Emerald Downs.

A $25,000 claimer for 3-year-olds who have never won two races, the 5 1/2-furlong feature attracted five entrants. Gdanz Xpress, making his first start in eight months, will break from the inside post position. Praise a Native, who posted a field-best Beyer Speed Figure in his victory April 15, will break from the outside. In between are Carr Creek, Landed On the Moon, and Topper’s Trooper.

Gdanz Xpress is likely to be the betting favorite. After storming to an easy maiden victory in his debut last July, he finished third behind Emerald’s champion 2-year-old, Couldabenthewhisky, in the restricted Strong Ruler Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs, and then third behind Winter Warlock in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda. In his final start of the year, in the one-mile WTBA Lads Stakes in late August, Gdanz Xpress never got rolling and finished fifth, more than 22 lengths behind the winner.

Trained by Doris Harwood for Vital Signs Stable, Gdanz Xpress has tactical speed, a potential asset in a race with no committed front-runner. If he doesn’t gun for the lead under jockey Robert Skelly, Gdanz Xpress won’t be far away. And if he finishes the way he did in the Strong Ruler, when he rallied strongly to miss by less than three lengths, he will be hard to deny Friday.

Praise a Native, trained by Blaine Wright for owners John Becker and Tom McCann, also figures to be forwardly placed. Second behind Rainier Ice on a sloppy track in his only start at 2, Praise a Native acted like a seasoned pro in his second start, moving nimbly to the rail approaching the turn and then shooting through a crease to take command under Joe Crispin. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 65 after running five furlongs in 57.81 seconds.

“That’s the way you want to start,” Wright said. “We inherited the inside from our post position, Joe put him through the opening and he ran a big race. We thought he had a bit of talent.”

Carr Creek won 1 of 4 starts last year, setting a modest pace to prevail in a $40,000 maiden claimer in September. Landed On the Moon rallied to beat older horses in a $10,000 maiden claimer at Mountaineer three weeks ago. Topper’s Trooper closed smartly to finish second in a $25,000 claimer on April 22.