05/24/2013 3:45PM

Emerald Downs: Polish Dollar in best form of career


AUBURN, Wash. – Polish Dollar was a $5,000 claimer when trainer Bob Meeking got his hands on the horse for the first time in the winter of 2011. Some 18 months later, Polish Dollar is one of the fastest horses at Emerald Downs. If the 7-year-old Polish Dollar is not stakes caliber, he’s pretty darn close.

In his 10 starts since owner Sharon Radke turned over Polish Dollar to Meeking, the gelding has won six times. He took $5,000 and $10,000 claimers last summer before stepping into allowance company for two more victories. After taking Emerald’s traditional October-to-March vacation, Polish Dollar has returned in even sharper form in 2013, winning a pair of first-level optional $25,000 claimers and doing it easily.

Polish Dollar earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 86 for his season-opening victory April 20, and then an 81 for his encore win May 12. Only two winners have exceeded an 86 Beyer at the meeting – Hoist was assigned an 89 for his victory in the Governor’s Handicap last Sunday, and E Z Kitty earned an 87 for her victory in the Hastings Handicap the week before.

Yet Meeking, ever the realist at age 84, doesn’t believe Polish Dollar is good enough to tackle stakes runners such as Hoist or Winning Machine.

“The trouble with cheap horses getting good is they probably don’t have any class, or don’t have very much class,” Meeking said. “He has more class than $12,500 or $20,000 claimers, maybe, but they usually come back down. But I think he’ll stay up there as long as he stays sound. He’s pretty happy.”

Polish Dollar has demonstrated the ability to bounce back quickly from a taxing race and to string several sharp efforts together. He has done most of his best work in sprints, though he did win going a mile in September, leading gate to wire in a $5,000 starter allowance.

“He came out of his last race fine,” Meeking said. “Here’s a horse who ran two races in 1:08 and change and came out like he didn’t run, just as easy as heck. It’s hard to believe. But I really feel a mile would be well within his grasp. He rates so kindly in a race, and with Isaias Enriquez, I’ve got a really good rider this year. This guy takes a hold and the horse just relaxes and runs that last eighth of a mile really well.”

Polish Dollar was originally trained by his breeder, Brad Varner, but when Varner retired following the 2010 meeting, owner Sharon Radke gave the horse to trainer Debbie Van Horne. Polish Dollar won a pair of $5,000 claimers for Van Horne in 2011, and then moved in with Meeking that winter.

“He was a bad doer when I got him,” Meeking said. “He didn’t eat, didn’t do much. He had up-and-down days all the time, but he’s on a pretty regular regimen now and sticking to it and really blooming. If you see him, he’s just covered with dapples – he looks like a leopard in the paddock, he’s just unbelievable.”

“The lady, Sharon Radke, is a prize to train for,” Meeking said. “She lives way out in Port Angeles, she has a pacemaker, she’s got legs that are bad and everything, and she motors in here once a week in her truck and then has to go home. But she’s been going home very happy lately. The trip home has been pretty good.”

Meeking said he’ll continue to shop for the right spot for Polish Dollar’s next start.

“The races that he runs in are unlikely to go now, but I’m hoping for something, an allowance, a $25,000 claimer, whatever,” Meeking said. “He’s run into two fields that he kind of dominated with speed, but he’s a gutsy guy, he tries to beat you. He wants to win.”

Enriquez thriving in new setting

Enriquez has been on quite a roll since joining the Emerald Downs jockey colony for the first time this year. Enriquez, 39, entered the week a close second behind Juan Gutierrez in the rider standings. Enriquez had 20 winners from his first 81 starters and was four wins behind Gutierrez.

Enriquez had been riding at Sunland Park in New Mexico but was eager for a change of scenery. The Tijuana, Mexico, native has an extensive background in West Coast racing.

“I was at Santa Anita for 10 years,” Enriquez said. “Then I went to Sunland for the past four years, on and off. I went to Florida for Calder, then Sunland, then to Lone Star, and then back to Sunland. I was going to go to Canada, but then my dad got sick and died in that time. It would have been too far away from my dad. But a good friend of mine, Felipe Valdez, he rode here at Emerald before, and he said ‘Why don’t you go to Seattle?’ He said ‘Let me make a couple of phone calls and see if I can get you a good agent,’ so he made a couple of calls and they contacted me with Vito Lucarelli.”

Lucarelli, who also books rides for David Lopez and Ronald Richard, succeeded in putting Enriquez on a bunch of live horses early in the meet, and Enriquez, after being blanked on opening night, responded by riding at least one winner on 14 consecutive cards.

Enriquez has amassed 1,082 victories since his first winning ride at Turf Paradise, and his mounts have earned more than $25 million. During his time in Southern California, Enriquez rode extensively for the late Richard Matlow, John Sadler, Doug O’Neill, Ted West, and others. His biggest horse to date, Whatsthescript, captured the 2008 American Handicap, a Grade 2 event at Hollywood Park, with Enriquez riding for Sadler.

“Whatsthescript is the best horse I ever rode money-wise and in big races versus Grade 1 winners,” Enriquez said. “But a horse I rode the other night, Olympic Lights, a 9-year-old – he’s got like 16 or 17 wins here, and that horse, he wants to win. So one is a big Grade 1 winner, and this one is cheaper, but he’s got the big heart. He’s just a warrior.”