05/09/2012 3:16PM

Emerald Downs: Lucarelli well armed for a big summer

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Benoit & Associates
Gallant Son could make a start in the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs this summer.

AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs kicks off its stakes program Sunday, and trainer Frank Lucarelli will be front and center with a contender in the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares.

Lucarelli captured the training title at Emerald last summer, but 2012 is shaping up to be an even better year. Stable mainstay Gallant Son gave a heartening performance in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile last month at Golden Gate, his first start following a layoff and some physical fine-tuning. But it is the new shooters – including Special Holiday in the Hastings – that have Lucarelli sitting on a lucrative summer.

Special Holiday worked six furlongs Monday, her final tuneup for the Hastings, and Lucarelli likes what he has seen in the short time he’s had her. Lucarelli and owner David Taylor acquired the 4-year-old Private Gold filly from the estate of trainer Bud Klokstad, who died in March. Special Holiday, who captured the Pink Ribbon Stakes at Stockton last summer, will be making her first start since July.

“She’ll be a stalker, she likes to lay just off of them,” Lucarelli said of her preferred running style. “She’s worked great, and I think she’ll run good.”

Special Holiday will tackle a formidable bunch in the Hastings. Class Included, Emerald’s dominant 3-year-old filly last year, got a head start on Special Holiday with a punctual victory in an allowance race a couple of weeks ago. Emerald stakes winners Elusive Noise and Carrabelle Harbor should ensure a hot pace, and Caged Mistress, a shipper from Vancouver, British Columbia, boasts a competitive r é sum é .

Special Holiday, six starts into her career, remains a work in progress. But another burgeoning star in the Lucarelli barn, Stormy Lucy, already has established herself as one of the leading 3-year-old fillies in Northern California. Stormy Lucy soundly defeated six rivals in the $75,000 Golden Poppy Stakes at Golden Gate last Sunday – her first try around two turns and her first test on grass.

Stormy Lucy won going away under Russell Baze, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 80. After losing her first two starts, including a maiden race at Emerald last September, Stormy Lucy has won four of her past six starts. Owned by Frank Gaunt, who keeps a large stable under Lucarelli’s care at Emerald Downs, Stormy Lucy could come north later this summer. She has yet to win on dirt.

“I was real pleased with her effort,” Lucarelli said of the Golden Poppy. “I figured she’d route and I figured she would love turf. She won pretty easy, really. But she won two allowance races on synthetic just as easily. I think she’s just a really good horse. She’s won on three different surfaces in her short career, so dirt shouldn’t be an issue.

“We certainly would consider her for the Washington Oaks. We’d point to that, if she’s coming here.”

Lucarelli said he has 50 horses at Emerald, 25 at Golden Gate, and at any given time, a trailer full of horses on Interstate 5, shuttling to and from. Winning Machine, a multiple stakes winner at Emerald, is scheduled to run May 20 in the Governor’s Handicap. Posse Power, third in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile last year, is being prepared for a summer campaign at Emerald.

Lucarelli also has a pair of supremely promising 3-year-olds. Johnski, a homebred for Emerald Downs’s president Ron Crockett, won a maiden race at Golden Gate on April 27 before shipping north. He’s a half-brother to graded stakes winner Harvard Avenue.

“He’s a pretty good colt who just ran down some older horses in a maiden allowance,” Lucarelli said. “And I’ve also got Cruzin the Harbor. He won a first-out maiden allowance by four lengths, and then he got a horrible trip when I ran him back. He’ll run at Golden Gate on Saturday and then you’ll see him in Seattle. Frank Gaunt wants to run his horses at Emerald, and I want to be there, too.

“Cruzin the Harbor is a full brother to Hollywood Harbor, though they don’t look anything alike. He’s a Quarter Horse-looking thing who can really run.”

So Lucarelli is loaded for bear in both 3-year-old divisions and with older fillies and mares. Winning Machine and Posse Power give him a leg up in the handicap division, with Posse Power again looking like a serious Longacres Mile contender.

“We gelded him and took a chip out of a knee, and he’s doing fabulous,” Lucarelli said.

Gallant Son remains the wild card. After a dominant 2-year-old season at Emerald, Gallant Son has morphed into a hard-knocking middle-distance turf specialist. His front-running effort under Leslie Mawing in the San Francisco Mile was a good one, and Gallant Son will stay on grass for the time being.

“You know, my horse can definitely improve,” Lucarelli said. “And that track was a little cuppy because we had rain all week. That didn’t help my horse in terms of fitness. But he ran a great race being off as long as he was, and I’m very pleased with his effort.

“We talked about coming up to Emerald, we talked about staying at Golden Gate. Right now, I think we’ll go to Hollywood Park and run him once or twice. He loves Hollywood Park’s turf. He really likes it down there, so we kind of timed his layoff so we could pass on Santa Anita and shoot for Hollywood.”

Lucarelli said the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 30 would be the golden ticket for Gallant Son. After that, another try in the Longacres Mile could be in the cards. Gallant Son finished sixth in the race in 2010.

“We’ve had problems with his feet, and that’s why I didn’t bring him to Seattle,” Lucarelli said. “But this spring, his feet are doing great. If we can keep that healthy, we certainly would be more likely to be interested in the [Longacres] Mile. I don’t want to run him a lot. [Owner] Chris Randall would love to run him in the Mile, and certainly win it. But it’s not a have-to-do thing. We’ll do what’s right by the horse.”