05/17/2013 5:17PM

Emerald Downs: Hoist candidate to set pace in Governor's

Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Winning Machine won the Governor's last year (above) and is a big threat to Hoist in this year's version.

AUBURN, Wash. – There’s one big question to be answered Sunday at Emerald Downs – who will win the Governor’s Handicap – and a second, perhaps no less interesting, issue: Who will set the pace in the 6 1/2-furlong race?

The first leg of a three-part stakes series for older horses leading to the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile in August, the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap attracted an evenly matched field of eight. But Makors Finale, front-running winner of an allowance race April 28, has been sidelined because of a foot injury, and there’s no obvious candidate to take up the running.

Hoist might be the most viable candidate. A Kentucky-bred by Mineshaft, Hoist spent last summer in New York, winning a $104,400 allowance race at Saratoga in his peak effort, before he was acquired by Vancouver-based owner Glenn Todd and transferred to Hastings. Hoist finished third in the British Columbia Derby in his first start for his new connections, and was third behind Makors Finale in his first start of 2013. While he is based north of the border, Hoist has worked extensively with Emerald trainer Mike Puhich, who will saddle the horse Sunday.

“We’ve had him all winter and spring; he’s trained great,” Puhich said. “They have four top horses up there and they’re trying to split them up. Hoist fits in really good down here. He’ll probably continue running down here until the Mile. He came out of that last race great. He just turned loose all his winter coat, and I think he’s coming into this race a lot better than the last time.”

Like many others in the April 28 allowance prep, Hoist had a tough trip. He was forced to steady while making a bid nearing the turn, and then ran out of steam in the final yards when the race was there for the taking. He’ll have a new jockey Sunday, with Aaron Gryder taking over for Isaias Enriquez.

“It looked like a turf race – everyone was running up heels and bouncing off each other,” Puhich said of Hoist’s last start. “Winning Machine looked like he took the worst of it. But I think if we don’t get stopped at the three and a half, if we get through when we wanted to, we might have won with some racing luck. But everyone in the race can say the same thing.”

Hoist could avoid a traffic jam Sunday by going to the front. Puhich said it’s an option, but not the only one.

“It just depends on how the break goes,” he said. “He’s got real good tactical speed. Aaron will ride him however the race comes up. If there’s no pace, he’ll set it, but he can stalk pretty well, too. You know, Winning Machine can go to the lead if he wants. It’s going to be a chess match the first quarter of a mile.”

Metz on a roll entering Governor’s

Trainer Jeff Metz is off to a fabulous start in his first season at Emerald Downs. Metz arrived from Turf Paradise with 25 horses, found the winner’s circle with 10 of his first 42 starters, and took home the big prize in the season’s first stakes race when E Z Kitty upset Exclusive Diva in the Hastings Handicap.

Metz will try to make it 2 for 2 in stakes when he starts Why Not Be Perfect in the Governor’s. Why Not Be Perfect won his final two starts at Turf Paradise this winter, both going long on the grass. He’s just 1 for 13 on dirt surfaces, and generally more effective around two turns. But Why Not Be Perfect has trained well on the dirt, and Metz is hoping he’s good enough to run in the Longacres Mile.

As a first step in that process, he’ll try 6 1/2 furlongs in the Governor’s with jockey Anne Sanguinetti. Next up is the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on June 16.

“This horse has won at five furlongs on the grass, so as far as sprinting, I think he can do it,” Metz said of Why Not Be Perfect, who has eight career victories from 43 starts. “He’s a pretty fast horse. Obviously, we’ve stretched him out and got him to relax. But at Turf Paradise he won on the dirt pretty nicely. The other day I worked him behind a horse to get some dirt in his face, and he took it just fine. All in all, I’m hopeful he can sprint. But more than anything, this could be a nice prep race leading up to the Budweiser.”

To cash a big check Sunday, Why Not Be Perfect will have to outrun seven horses, including likely favorite Winning Machine.

“I see Aaron Gryder is coming in to ride one; he’s always tough,” Metz said, in reference to Hoist. “But the horse to beat is Winning Machine. He ran a game race last time. Frank Lucarelli was saying that the horse tries hard every time. I’m hoping Why Not Be Perfect can be that same kind of horse. He’s really happy right now, he’s training good.”

Belvoir loses owner and friend

Harley Hoppe, who died Monday at his home near Seattle at age 82, was a friend of Northwest racing for decades and had a long relationship with trainer Howard Belvoir.

“It was a 50-some-year relationship,” Belvoir said. “He was a good owner, a great guy. He would do anything for you. It’s tough, it sure is … I lost two owners the past two years. It’s tough, and tough for racing, period. It’s tough for me, but it’s tough for everyone. But I can’t say enough about Harley, he had a heart of gold.”

Hoppe’s best horses included Mulcahy, the champion Washington 3-year-old in 2007, and Red Eye Express, a nine-time stakes winner who finished second in the 1974 Longacres Mile.

“That horse really belonged to the girls, his wife and Patty True, who also has passed away,” Belvoir said of Red Eye Express. “But we had a number of good horses. He’s had a lot of nice ones. Like I say, I trained for him since I think 1963. Harley was a good friend, and he loved the sport.”