09/06/2013 4:03PM

Emerald Downs: Stryker Phd should be favored for stakes breakthrough

Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Jebrica (4) holds off Stryker Phd (5) to win the Budweiser Handicap.

AUBURN, Wash. - While Stryker Phd has been one of the fastest horses at Emerald Downs in recent memory, posting Beyer Speed Figures of 96 and 97 in his past two starts, it's also true that the late-running 4-year-old has never won a race at his home track. A hard-luck second in four consecutive stakes appearances, Stryker Phd will try to kick down the door Sunday as the likely favorite in the $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.

The Muckleshoot Tribal Classic, one of six stakes races for statebreds on Washington Cup Day, attracted just six entrants and could boil down to a two-horse race between Stryker Phd and Jebrica, a pair of closers in a field that also includes some speedy rabbits. A fast pace is in the forecast, along with the possibility of a wet racetrack following heavy rain Friday.

Stryker Phd has finished in front of Jebrica in their two most recent meetings, while Jebrica got the better of Stryker Phd in the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on June 16. Debbie Hoonan, Stryker Phd's regular rider, will be back aboard Sunday for trainer Margo Lloyd, and much could ride on Hoonan's ability to work out a problem-free trip from the inside post position. Stryker Phd has had to weave through traffic in previous starts before uncorking his powerful late run, always arriving at the finish a day late and a dollar short. A total of six lengths have separated Stryker Phd from four consecutive stakes victories.

Jim Penney, who trains Jebrica, will send out two other starters in the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic as he attempts to win the race for the fifth time since 1998. Jebrica, a three-time stakes winner, is Penney's best hope, though bettors may take a second look at Kooky Saluki, who defeated Jebrica in the 2012 Muckleshoot but is winless in five starts this year. Penney's other horse, I Keep Saying, has four sprint victories at the meeting but was badly outrun in his only route attempt.

Polish Dollar and Memphis Beach are the rabbits, and neither should be taken lightly. Polish Dollar has nearly as many career victories (13) as the rest of the field combined, and while most of those triumphs have come against claimers, Polish Dollar has continued to climb the ladder in 2013, winning three of his six starts,all for trainer Bob Meeking. Polish Dollar will have a new pilot Sunday, as Juan Gutierrez, Emerald's leading rider, steps in for Rocco Bowen.

Memphis Beach got used up in a speed duel in his last start, running the first half mile in 43.51 seconds. A three-time winner in the claiming ranks, Memphis Beach is liable to make a beeline for the lead and try to steal it. He'll have to hurry, because Stryker Phd and Jebrica will be formidable late.