08/01/2013 5:00PM

Emerald Downs return a homecoming for Deacon Speakin'

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AUBURN, Wash. – Deacon Speakin’, after an extended stay in Southern California, returns to the Pacific Northwest Saturday as one of the favorites in the feature race at Emerald Downs. First post for the 10-race card is 2 p.m. Pacific.

In the featured ninth race, a second-level allowance with a $40,000 optional claiming price at one mile, the field includes six runners with wildly different backstories. Deacon Speakin’ is a hard-hitting veteran of 61 career starts and a two-time winner of the Portland Meadows Mile. Forin Sea is a 3-year-old who is just getting the hang of things after six career starts. There’s a filly (Royal Moses), a graded-stakes winner (Assessment), a lightly raced 5-year-old (Saddleranch) who went gate to wire in his debut at Hollywood Park, and a former claimer (Polish Dollar) who might be the sharpest horse on the grounds.

Any of the six could be appealing to handicappers, with Polish Dollar, a 13-time winner at Emerald Downs, the most likely to start as the favorite. But Deacon Speakin’ is returning to his favorite distance and surface – he has won four of his six starts at a mile on dirt, including his last three – and will be hard to hold off if he’s ready for his best effort after shipping north last month.

Deacon Speakin had a profitable stay in California for owner Paul Hagemann. He rallied to win a $32,000 claiming race on the Santa Anita Park grass in December, and finished in the top three on three other occasions. In one of his best efforts, he finished third in a minor stakes race on Super Bowl Sunday, after which Hagemann and trainer Michael Pender decided to take a shot in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, where Deacon Speakin’ was no match for Game On Dude at 85-1 and finished eighth of nine runners.

Deacon Speakin’ has worked a couple of times at Emerald Downs for trainer Neil Knapp and will have the riding services of Juan Gutierrez, who guided Deacon Speakin’ to a resounding victory in the 2011 Portland Meadows Mile Handicap in the only time they have teamed up. They will break from post 5 in a six-horse field.

Polish Dollar, whose remarkable rise from the low-level claiming ranks has continued apace this year, is likely to set the early pace in his first route attempt of 2013. In his most recent outing, Polish Dollar dropped a narrow decision to the speedy Camp Granada after a prolonged speed duel.

Forin Sea, third behind Polish Dollar in his most recent start on June 22, is making his first start around two turns. By Brother Derek, Forin Sea has acted like a horse who might thrive at the one-mile distance.