05/04/2011 1:49PM

Emerald Downs: Penney has five possibilities for Hastings Handicap


AUBURN, Wash. – With the season’s first stakes race for fillies and mares here at Emerald Downs fast approaching, trainer Jim Penney has some whittling to do. Penney and his team have five legitimate contenders for the May 15 Hastings Handicap, an unwieldy and impractical number to be sure. No trainer has ever started five horses in a race at Emerald Downs. Only one trainer has ever started four. Penney, a member of the Washington racing Hall of Fame, has made a lot of history in his 57 years as a trainer. He could make a little more next Sunday.

Barring a last-minute setback, Sweet Nellie Brown, a snappy winner in her 2011 debut April 15, is certain to run the six-furlong Hastings. The 4-year-old Sweet Nellie Brown rallied from just off the pace to beat 2010 stakes winner Rewritten by a length, with another stakes winner, Feeling Fancy, close behind in third.

Sis’s Sis, a double stakes winner last year at 3 but a well-beaten third in her season debut last Sunday, is likely for the Hastings. That’s the word from Kay Cooper, Penney’s daughter and the person responsible for day-to-day operations in Penney’s barn.

Include the Baby, second behind the unbeaten You Me and Ema B after a prolonged duel last Saturday, could start in the Hastings, Cooper said, though Include the Baby bruised a foot last month and missed some training. She’s still eligible to run against nonwinners of two.

It’s the same story for Private Fortune, who checked in 3 1/2 lengths behind You Me and Ema B after a wide trip in her first start of the year. Private Fortune was stakes-placed on two occasions last summer but has only one victory in 16 career starts. She’s possible for the Hastings.

“Sweet Nellie Brown won very impressively. Include the Baby ran an awfully good race, and so did Private Fortune. Sis’s Sis just needs to go farther,” Cooper said. “Those are my top four contenders, but we’ve still got conditions for two of them, never win two.

“The other filly, Cliff’s Secret, she’s just a touch below.”

Regarding Cliff’s Secret, Cooper said she might reconsider after learning the lightly raced 5-year-old had earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure in a $20,000 claiming race last Friday – the fastest race at Emerald through the first three weeks of the meeting.

Cliff’s Secret, who like Sis’s Sis and Include the Baby is owned by Mike and Amy Feuerborn, survived a withering speed duel with My Untamed Heart to prevail by a length, running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.33 after a killer half-mile in 43.97 seconds. If the race truly goes to the swift, Cliff’s Secret could be a major player in the Hastings.

“I’ll have to discuss it with the owner,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to run her where she’s overmatched. She tries so hard. I think we might want to find something easier for her.”

Nothing will be easy in the Hastings. Rewritten, Feeling Fancy, My Untamed Heart, and You Me and Ema B could join the field, and Zenovit, powerful winner of the Washington Oaks last summer, is waiting in the wings.

“We haven’t seen Zenovit yet,” Cooper said. “It’s going to be a very strong older mare division this year. Very strong.”

Keep an eye on Wright’s 3-year-olds

Trainer Blaine Wright is sitting on a potential mother lode of stakes runners, particularly in the 3-year-old male division. Most of his best horses are still at Golden Gate Fields, however, and it could be a while before Wright, 36, makes his presence felt at Emerald Downs.

Wright is high on Rocky’s Quest, who finished fourth in his debut last September at Emerald, and then was a troubled third in his 2011 debut at Golden Gate. Owners John and Janene Maryanski paid $30,000 for Rocky’s Quest at the 2009 Washington summer yearling sale. He’s expected to start Saturday in a maiden race at Golden Gate.

“He’s a good horse,” Wright said. “He’s doing well. He had some traffic problems last time. Hopefully, with him and a few others, I can get their maidens broke and then come home and compete in some stakes races.”

On Friday at Golden Gate, Wright will saddle first-time starter Meant to be Mia in a maiden race for 3-year-old fillies. She races for the Maryanskis, as does Seventyprcentcocoa, a homebred 3-year-old filly who finished a close second Sunday in a $40,000 starter allowance on the turf.

Rocky’s Quest, Meant to be Mia, and Seventyprcentcocoa all might compete at Emerald this summer, Wright said. Same with Zayda, a 3-year-old colt owned by Heidi Nelson who won a maiden race on New Year’s Day and finished eighth in the California Derby two weeks later.

“It was unfortunate we had a 13-day runback,” Wright said. “His races are a little stressful on him, he puts a lot into them, he’s a high-energy horse … so it was a timing deal. We figured, aw hell, let’s take a shot at it, and he didn’t fire. But he made a big run in an allowance race in his next start. I think he’s going to have a bright future on the turf.”

There’s no turf course at Emerald, so plain old dirt will have to do for now.

“Heidi wants to run in Washington,” Wright said. “She’s got a couple of other horses there. With the stakes schedule going right into routes, if Zayda can stay close enough and run quicker to the pace on the dirt than he did on the synthetics, he can be a big force.”