06/19/2013 3:40PM

Emerald Downs: Popular Pick well suited to distance of Friday feature


AUBURN, Wash. – A one-mile, $12,500 claimer for older horses who have yet to win three times will serve as the feature race Friday at Emerald Downs, and with five of the eight entrants trying a two-turn distance for the first time, handicappers could have their hands full trying to pick a winner. First post for the seven-race card is 6:45 p.m. Pacific.

Popular Pick is likely to be the favorite for trainer Bob Meeking, though the betting could spread out evenly among the five leading contenders. If Popular Pick has a significant edge, it’s his previous experience at one mile. He covered the distance twice in 2012, finishing a fast-closing second in a $15,000 claimer for 3-year-olds and then pressing the pace in the restricted Chinook Pass Stakes before fading to finish last behind division leader Makors Finale.

Popular Pick, by the Red Ransom stallion Trail City, has started twice this year, pressing the pace against $12,500 claimers both times. He’ll have a new rider Friday as Javier Matias steps in for Isaias Enriquez.

Enriquez opted to ride Orcas Gold for trainer Doris Harwood, who has heated up recently, winning with six of her 10 starters over the past three racing days. Orcas Gold drew the inside post position and is likely to get involved in the early running after pressing the pace in two previous sprints at the meeting. Orcas Gold defeated statebred maiden claimers in his final start of 2012 but has yet to defeat winners.

Improviso and Risky Road each boast a recent sprint victory against winners and are sure to attract attention in the wagering. Improviso, by Master Command, rallied from far back to catch a couple of tiring $12,500 claimers in his last start. He boasts strong human connections, with leading rider Juan Gutierrez aboard for Chris Stenslie, second in the trainer standings with 18 wins.

Risky Road, trained by Washington Hall of Famer Jim Penney, overwhelmed $7,500 claimers by more than eight lengths in his last start. Risky Road is among the horses who have yet to try a route distance, and he, too, is liable to be forwardly placed in a field laden with speed.

Others in the lineup include recent maiden winners Jimmeny Creek and Donnell’s Dancer; late-running sprinter Expenses Paid; and Leadership, who finished last, beaten 5 1/2 lengths, in a $25,00 claimer in his last start. Leadership has just one win in 15 starts, but is stakes-placed around two turns, finishing third in a pair of route stakes during his 2-year-old season in 2011.