07/24/2012 3:34PM

Emerald Downs: Wasserman still in the game

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AUBURN, Wash. – Ten-year-old Wasserman, one of the most popular horses in Emerald Downs history but now nearing the end of his celebrated career, will try to get back on the winning side Thursday in a $15,000 claimer at one mile. His longtime partner, jockey Jennifer Whitaker, will be along for the ride, and Wasserman could start as the favorite in a five-horse field.

Wasserman has won more money at Emerald than any other horse – $545,151 in his 58 local starts. He achieved his signature victory in the 2008 Longacres Mile, when he rallied from far back to nail True Metropolitan at the wire as a 10-1 outsider. Wasserman won four stakes races that summer, all from well off the pace, and all in photo finishes, to burnish his legend in Northwest racing.

The autumn of his career has been less rewarding – he has 1 victory in 22 starts over the past three years – but trainer Howard Belvoir said Wasserman is still eager to compete.

“He’s getting old, but he’s happy,” said Belvoir, who bred and owns Wasserman, a son of Cahill Road. “He’s playing around, he’s training good. He loves to be in training more than being out in the field, so whatever makes him happy tickles me to death.”

Remarkably, Wasserman’s victory in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile remains his one and only victory at eight furlongs. Otherwise, he is 0 for 18 at the distance. He’ll try a mile again Thursday, in a race with no obvious front-runner to set up his late charge. In a perfect world, Wasserman would be racing around one turn rather than two.

“I think six and half is his best distance,” Belvoir said, “but like with most older horses, it takes a long time to get ’em fit, and there’s not that many races for the guy. He used to show speed when he was a baby, and now he’s showing too much speed. He’s so fresh. But we need to get him back off the pace.”

Belvoir has no immediate plans to retire Wasserman. There’s no hurry, as Emerald Downs permits horses to run through their 12-year-old season. But if the right situation presented itself, one that allowed Wasserman to stay busy, Belvoir said he would consider it.

“I’d like to find a good place for dressage for him, because he’s big and agile. I’d like to find a good home for him if I could. If the right situation came around, I would retire him. He’s a dirt-digger – he likes to get his hands dirty. But right now, it takes about 10 races a year to get him back. It just takes him too long.”