05/06/2011 2:33PM

Emerald Downs: Olympic Lights looks to duplicate his last

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AUBURN, Wash. – Olympic Lights was 0-for-the-winter at Portland Meadows but won brilliantly in his return to Emerald Downs and looms large yet again in Sunday’s feature race, a $20,000 claimer for older horses at 5 1/2 furlongs. Racing begins at 2 p.m. Pacific, and the feature is the ninth of 10 races.

A speedy 7-year-old who is comfortable making the pace or rating just behind the leaders, Olympic Lights has always liked Emerald Downs, winning 9 of 19 local starts. He is 1 for 9 at other tracks and was barely competitive in five starts at Portland over the winter. But after an 11-week layoff, Olympic Lights returned to his home base in style, cruising to a 5 1/4-length victory in a $15,000 claimer on the second day of the meeting. He earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figures after running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.63.

Olympic Lights drew the outside post in a six-horse field, a good starting point for a horse who figures to control the pace. But Olympic Lights, to be ridden by Robert Skelly for trainer Charles Essex, will have to contend with Malibu Rum in the early going and then find enough in reserve to hold off Carry On John, Rescue Plan, and Newfound Gold in the late stages.

Carry On John won a $25,000 optional claiming sprint in his final start at Emerald last September and captured the $21,000 Inaugural Handicap at Portland Meadows 10 days later. He was a troubled third in the $27,000 Governor’s Speed Handicap in his last start Jan. 29 and then was sent out by trainer Pat Mullens for a three-month freshening. Juan Gutierrez has the riding assignment.

In the co-featured eighth race, Tequila Gold will try to run his winning streak to five as the Essex-trained 4-year-old makes his first start of 2011. A first-level optional claimer at six furlongs, the race attracted six entrants, with Avram and Aaron the Baron the leading challengers.

Tequila Gold shot up the claiming ladder in 2010, beating $12,500 maidens in his first start and then winning for $15,000, $20,000, and $25,000. Laid up in late August, he’ll be making his first start in more than eight months. Avram has been away even longer, sidelined since rolling to a front-running victory on a sloppy track in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race in April 2010. Avram has worked brilliantly for trainer Vann Belvoir and looms the one to catch.