07/10/2013 2:06PM

Emerald Downs: Improviso could use speedy pace setup

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AUBURN, Wash. – A $15,000 claimer for older horses at 1 1/16 miles will serve as the feature race Friday as Emerald Downs starts the second half of its 75-day meeting. First post for the seven-race card is 6:45 p.m. Pacific.

The feature is restricted to horses who have yet to win three times, and the late-running Improviso, who won his Emerald Downs debut and then missed by a head in his second local start, could start as the favorite in a six-horse field.

A 4-year-old by the A.P. Indy stallion Master Command, Improviso began his racing career last November at Betfair Hollywood Park. He won his third start, a $20,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita, for owner Rodney Orr in January, and then was soundly beaten in three subsequent starts in Southern California before being transferred to trainer Chris Stenslie at Emerald Downs. In his first local start on May 26, Improviso rallied strongly to capture a $12,500 claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs.

In his most recent outing, on June 21, Improviso again came from far off the pace to reach the lead in the final yards, only to get collared near the finish line by winner Risky Road. Improviso has benefited from quick early fractions in his two starts at Emerald Downs and could get a similarly favorable setup Friday, with the fast but unproven Scat Daddybaby likely to set a crackling pace in his first route attempt.

Scat Daddybaby, a 3-year-old with six career starts, shot to a four-length lead in a $25,000 claiming sprint in his last start before giving way through the stretch. If jockey Ronald Richard can get Scat Daddybaby to relax early – no easy task for a horse who ran a half-mile in 44 seconds in his last start – then Scat Daddybaby could prove to be an elusive target. If not, Improviso, along with He’s a Cruiser, Leadership, and Faster Than Duke, should be formidable in the final furlong.

He’s a Cruiser has finished in the top three in 11 of 16 starts for trainer Vince Gibson but has yet to win at a route distance. Leadership has only a maiden victory in 16 starts and finished three lengths behind Improviso in his last start. Faster Than Duke finished a distant second last year in the restricted Chinook Pass Stakes, 15 lengths behind winner Makors Finale.

Whiskeyonthehouse, still a maiden after seven starts, rounds out the field.