05/10/2013 2:55PM

Emerald Downs: Hastings Handicap comes up loaded

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AUBURN, Wash. – A stellar field of eight fillies and mares will help launch Emerald Downs’s 2013 stakes schedule when they compete Sunday in the $50,000 Hastings Handicap at six furlongs.

Exclusive Diva and E Z Kitty, who ran 1-2 in a fast allowance race three weeks ago, are likely to attract the lion’s share of the betting in the Hastings, the ninth race on a 10-race program beginning at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Exclusive Diva has been brilliant in her brief career, winning 6 of 9 starts, including three stakes, all at Emerald Downs. She was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of 85 for her neck victory over E Z Kitty on April 21, when Exclusive Diva kicked away in midstretch and held E Z Kitty at bay through the final sixteenth. Exclusive Diva and E Z Kitty hooked up through a moderate first quarter before shifting into overdrive; they covered five furlongs in 55.61 seconds and reached the wire in 1:01.56 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

The pace could be just as daunting in the Hastings. In addition to the two speedy favorites, the field includes Emerald newcomer Plus One, a 4-year-old who has raced in Pennsylvania, Ontario, West Virginia, Kentucky and, most recently, Arkansas, before joining trainer Tim McCanna at Emerald a couple of weeks ago. Plus One is quick – she went gate to wire in a five-furlong stakes on the grass at Penn National last September. In her most recent outing, which came at Oaklawn Park, Plus One pressed the pace in a 5 1/2-furlong stakes race before dropping back on the turn.

Another new shooter, Gosailgo, could make her presence felt. She won a restricted stakes race last summer at Hastings for trainer Robert J. Anderson. In her 2013 debut, at Turf Paradise on April 13, Gosailgo made an eye-catching late run after stumbling at the start to win a five-furlong allowance going way.

Howard Belvoir, who will saddle probable longshot Champagneandcaviar – a multiple stakes winner herself – said the Hastings field might be as deep as he has seen in the 17-plus-year history of Emerald Downs.

“Exclusive Diva ran a big race last time. She bent her ears back,” Belvoir said. “We had a hard time beating her going a route last year, and a route is probably better for Champagneandcaviar. But we’ll take a run at her.”

Frank Lucarelli also will take a shot with Smokin’ Grey, a late runner in a field laden with speed.

“I’m hoping I’ve got her tight enough,” Lucarelli said of Smokin’ Grey. “I think if I get her at the top of her game, she can compete with those horses. But Exclusive Diva is a good filly. E Z Kitty is good, too; she runs every time. Those fillies are tough. I think there are four or five horses in there that can win. It’s just going to depend on the setup.”