04/20/2012 2:30PM

Emerald Downs: Trio of stakes-winning sprinters tune up for Governor's Handicap

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AUBURN, Wash. – Handicappers were forced to dig deep to find a decent price during the first few days of the new meeting at Emerald Downs. The betting favorite won 16 of the 26 races during the three-day opening last weekend, and several favorites look formidable Sunday on an nine-race card that kicks off at 2 p.m. Pacific.

In the featured eighth race, stakes winners Couldabenthewhisky, He’s All Heart, and Hollywood Harbor headline a six-horse field going 5 1/2 furlongs in a $21,500 allowance. The trainers of all three are hoping to use the race as a springboard to the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap on May 20.

The average field size during opening weekend was 6.58 runners per race, down slightly from the same period a year ago, and the betting public had no problem zeroing in on the contenders as favorites won 62 percent of the races.

Only five of the 26 winners paid more than $8, and the average win mutuel was $6.82.

The second and fifth races Sunday could offer some respite from the slow grind of $5 horses.

In the second, a $12,500 claimer for maiden 3-year-old fillies, the betting figures to spread out among a compact but competitive field of five. Trainer Chris Stenslie will debut Grab the Goods, a full sister to the speedy Bogachiel. Howard Belvoir has a pair of contenders with the front-running Bartab and Champagneandcaviar, a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Winning Machine. And Bill Tollett will send out Cahill’s Affair for her first start since September. Cahill’s Affair pressed the pace against $25,000 maidens the last time she raced.

The final starter, Jadey Baby, could offer some value at 4-1 or higher. After a runner-up finish at Portland Meadows in January, Jadey Baby was a distant seventh in a $20,000 maiden claimer in her Emerald debut just nine days ago. But the Robert Baze-trained Jadey Baby got used up forcing a hot pace, and then was packed wide on the turn on a day dominated by inside speed. All in all, it was a better-than-it-looks effort by Jadey Baby, who will be ridden by Juan Gutierrez.

The fifth race attracted seven horses, six of whom have been idle for seven months or longer. The only horse with recent racing, the occasionally speedy Swiss Lightning, is likely to start at 4-1 or higher. But there might be more betting value in Silver Sneakers, the only horse with more than one career victory. Silver Sneakers tends to run well fresh; he’s the most likely longshot winner on the card.