09/14/2011 3:22PM

Emerald Downs: Howard Belvoir makes late push for first training title


AUBURN, Wash. – Howard Belvoir, seeking his first Emerald Downs training title, will send out four starters Friday, including two in the feature race, a $15,000 claimer for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs. The eight-race card begins at 5 p.m. Pacific, an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate a fireworks show after the races.

Belvoir has been a fixture at Emerald since the facility opened in 1996. He has finished in the top 10 in the trainer standings every year. All told, he has won 557 races at the suburban Seattle track – including back-to-back runnings of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile – and his horses have earned nearly $5.7 million at Emerald. But a training title has eluded him, due in large part to the presence of Tim McCanna, who has won eight titles in the past 10 years.

With McCanna’s numbers down a bit in 2011, Belvoir moved to the top of the standings early in the meeting and stayed there for some four months, until Frank Lucarelli jumped ahead a couple of weeks ago. Lucarelli leads, 50-48, with six days remaining.

Belvoir, 67, can gain ground Friday. He has two contenders in the feature, and two more in the sixth race, a $5,000 claimer, while Lucarelli will send out just one starter. In the feature, Belvoir has Cat On Base, a speedy 4-year-old with two victories at the meeting, and Immigration, a hard-trying 7-year-old who hasn’t won in more than two years. Cat On Base is dropping in class, from a $25,000 claimer, and returning to a sprint distance after trying a mile in his last start. He figures to be close to the pace from the outset, with race favorite Olympic Lights in close pursuit.

Immigration is the lesser of Belvoir’s two entrants, though Immigration has been a check-cashing machine, finishing second or third in 10 of 15 starts over the past two years.

Belvoir has saddled at least 40 winners at Emerald in six consecutive seasons and needs two wins to equal his career-best total of 50. His horses have earned $372,403 at the meeting. That ranks fourth overall, but it’s a far cry from 2007-09, when Belvoir’s horses earned more than $630,000 in three consecutive seasons. His stable stars, Longacres Mile winners Wasserman and Assessment, have combined for just one victory in 13 starts this year, but Belvoir could have a future star in Leadership, a 2-year-old who finished third in the WTBOA Lads Stakes in his last start.