05/17/2013 3:33PM

Emerald Downs: Tight pack hard to separate in Governor's Handicap


AUBURN, Wash. – After a hotly contested allowance prep race failed to yield any conclusive results, the top older horses at Emerald Downs will lock horns again Sunday while chasing a bigger purse in the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. First post for the 10-race card is 2 p.m. Pacific.

Of the eight horses signed up for the Governor’s, six took part in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance April 28, and all six finished within three lengths of the winner. Adding to the handicapping challenges Sunday, just about every horse in that allowance had a messy trip, even the winner, Makors Finale, who held off the favored Winning Machine to prevail by a neck in 1:02.71.

Winning Machine, a four-time stakes winner at Emerald and runner-up in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile last summer, is likely to start as the Governor’s favorite. Trained by Frank Lucarelli for owners Raymond Kwik and Paul Goldberg, Winning Machine had an abysmal trip behind Makors Finale, blocked and surrounded for most of the journey. Winning Machine, as is his nature, finished gamely when an opening finally presented itself in the final yards.

“He got plugged up in a spot he couldn’t get though. It certainly hurt him quite a bit,” Lucarelli said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a clean trip Sunday. He was pretty antsy in the gate that day and didn’t break sharp, but we’ve schooled him some and hopefully he’ll break and steer clear of trouble. But he came out of the race great. He couldn’t be better. He’s happy, and he’s been hitting on all cylinders.”

With Makors Finale sidelined for the Governor’s, the pace scenario is a bit of a mystery. Hoist, who finished third behind Makors Finale after pressing the pace, could be among the early leaders after breaking from post 3 under Aaron Gryder. D’honorable One is quick from the blocks; he will start from post 7. Winning Machine, breaking from the six-hole with jockey Javier Matias, could assert himself from the start.

“He knows the horse rally well,” Lucarelli said of Matias. “I don’t give a lot of instruction. Most guys, journeyman riders, they know what they need to do. We’ll talk about who might go and who might not, and then I’ll tell him to put him in a good spot, and good luck. Like the last time, he didn’t break well, so what good are my instructions? You need a rider who can call an audible out there, and that’s why we have him on the horse.”