04/27/2011 3:19PM

Emerald Downs: Seattle Sniper looks for target in 2011 debut

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AUBURN, Wash. – Seattle Sniper, runner-up in two stakes races in 2010, headlines a 5 1/2-furlong, first-level optional claimer Friday at Emerald Downs, and while the speedy 3-year-old will be popular in the betting, he’s liable to have his hands full with seven promising rivals in his 2011 debut.

A homebred for Jerre Paxton’s Northwest Farms, Seattle Sniper is a half-brother to Smarty Deb, a brilliant but star-crossed filly who beat males in the 2007 Gottstein Futurity but suffered career-ending injuries after finishing fifth behind Indian Blessing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth.

Seattle Sniper hinted at similar potential last summer when he finished a close second in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda Stakes, third in the one-mile WTBA Lads, and then second in the 1 1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity on the final day of the meeting.

Seattle Sniper zipped five furlongs in 58.40 seconds on April 17 in his final major tune-up for trainer Tom Wenzel. Juan Gutierrez, his regular pilot in 2010, has the riding assignment.

Seattle Sniper does his best running from just off the pace. With speedy front-runners Hayjax and Marvin’s Magic signed on, he could get an ideal setup if those two hook up in a speed duel. Hayjax, breaking from the inside post position, figures to gun for the lead under Joe Crispin. Marvin’s Magic, a distant last in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship in his final start at 2, is quick enough to go with him.

If the leaders falter from their early efforts, one of the late-runners, Win Photos Will Do or Come Away Home, could run them down. Win Photos Will Do won both of his starts in 2010, crushing $25,000 claimers in his final outing in September. Come Away Home announced his presence with a rapid victory in a maiden race at Turf Paradise in February.

Others in the field are Top Banker Al, a longshot whose only victory came in a $7,500 maiden claimer last September; Stellar Blue, who failed to hit the board in two stakes appearances; and Buckle, a two-time winner in the claiming ranks.

Earlier Friday, Cliff’s Secret and My Untamed Heart are scheduled to meet in the third race, a $20,000 claimer for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs. Cliff’s Secret began her career with three consecutive sprint victories before fading badly in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap last August. My Untamed Heart is 3 for 4 sprinting and has been working brilliantly.