06/28/2013 4:40PM

Emerald Downs: Rocky's Quest back in right company

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AUBURN, Wash. – Rocky’s Quest, whose bid to join the stakes ranks ended with a resounding defeat in the Budweiser Handicap in his previous start, will return to his comfort zone Sunday when he headlines a second-level allowance/optional claimer for older horses at one mile. With no stakes race at Emerald Downs, it will serve as the featured eighth race on a nine-race card that begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Rocky’s Quest was 4-1 in the one-mile Budweiser on June 16 while making his first stakes appearance, but after tracking the pace for six furlongs, he faded to finish eighth behind upset winner Jebrica. He will meet six rivals Sunday, with stakes-placed runners Edge Forward and Touch the Sun among the leading contenders.

Trained by Blaine Wright for John and Janene Maryanski, Rocky’s Quest found a winning groove in 2012 en route to claimer-of-the-meeting honors. He was one of just two horses to record five victories at the meeting, capping the summer with a victory over four-time winner Malibu Rum in the Ashbaugh-Beal Claiming Challenge on closing day.

The key to Rocky’s Quest’s big year, Wright said, was the decision to geld the son of Rockport Harbor between his 3- and 4-year-old seasons. Rocky’s Quest was a new and improved horse when he arrived at Emerald Downs in early 2012, and the results of his transformation were apparent on the racetrack – after winning a $12,500 claimer in his first start, Rocky’s Quest jumped up the class ladder, taking a $20,000 claimer and then three allowance races while recording Beyer Speed Figures of 88, 89, 90, 90, and 86 over his ensuing five starts.

Hopes that Rocky’s Quest might be stakes-worthy this year were heightened after he finished a fast-closing second behind Makors Finale in a six-furlong allowance sprint on June 1 in his first start of 2013. He will go back to the drawing board Sunday against a more accommodating brand of opponents, and if he is none the worse for wear after the Budweiser, he should be formidable with Juan Gutierrez riding. Rocky’s Quest had won three consecutive starts at one mile before his defeat in the Budweiser.

Edge Forward hinted at a bright future during his 3-year-old campaign in 2012 when finishing third behind the very fast Italian Boy in the 1 1/16-mile Seattle Slew Handicap in July. He has yet to duplicate his best form this year but could benefit from the switch from sprints to a middle distance. Touch the Sun, runner-up in a one-mile stakes race at Turf Paradise in December, is one of three horses who figure to vie for the early lead, perhaps setting things up for Rocky’s Quest from just off the pace.