06/07/2013 4:04PM

Emerald Downs: Wenzel's stable unsurpassed when it comes to quality runners


AUBURN, Wash. – Tom Wenzel has reached a delicious sweet spot in his training career. While Wenzel, 47, probably won’t threaten for the training title at Emerald Downs this summer, he boasts at least one bona-fide stakes runner in every division and could run away with the more important earnings title. Beyond that, Wenzel could threaten Doris Harwood’s track record of 12 stakes victories in a single meeting.

Wenzel, who captured the Auburn Handicap for 3-year-olds last week with Finallygotabentley, will send out Exclusive Diva on Sunday in the $50,000 Washington State Legislators Handicap for fillies and mares. Exclusive Diva has won 6 of 10 starts under Wenzel’s care, was the leading 3-year-old filly at Emerald Downs last summer, and looks to be an ever sharper horse in 2013. She and E Z Kitty, who bested Exclusive Diva in the May 12 Hastings Handicap, could take turns atop their division for the balance of the summer.

Wenzel also trains the leader of the handicap division (Makors Finale), and has an absolute stranglehold on the 3-year-old filly crop with a trio of speedy and impeccably bred horses – Stopshoppingdebbie, Goin to the Window, and Blueberry Smoothie – who finished 1-2-3 in the May 26 Seattle Handicap.

Four divisions, all covered by Wenzel, and that doesn’t include the handful of intriguing 2-year-olds Wenzel has in the pipeline for owners Jerre Paxton of Northwest Farms, the region’s most prominent breeder, and Karl Krieg, who campaigns Makors Finale and owns dam Coup de Foudre, the 2012 Washington broodmare of the year.

Makors Finale is unbeaten in two starts this year – his first two attempts against older horses – and has won 8 of 14 career starts with earnings of $179,891. He won four stakes at Emerald Downs last year, capped by victories in the Emerald Derby and a 15-length triumph in the restricted Chinook Pass Stakes for statebreds. Makors Finale, who was forced to skip the May 19 Governor’s Handicap because of a foot injury, is being pointed toward the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 18.

Some would call it an embarrassment of riches for Wenzel, who saddled eight stakes winners a year ago and finished a close second behind Washington Hall of Fame trainer Jim Penney on the Emerald earnings list. Wenzel was fifth in the overall trainer standings with 30 wins from just 88 starters. With owners such as Paxton and Krieg funneling high-class horses his way, Wenzel has the luxury of operating a stable built more on quality than quantity.

With two stakes victories in the bank this year and 25 stakes remaining on the calendar, he would have to win 11 of them to surpass Harwood’s record of 12 stakes winners in a season, which she set in 2007 and then equaled in 2009. Wenzel has a strong chance Sunday with Exclusive Diva, a Paxton homebred by Bernardini. After winning her season debut in an allowance race, Exclusive Diva finished second behind E Z Kitty in the Hastings after racing in a wide and tiring path. Only six horses were entered in the Washington State Legislators, and Exclusive Diva promises to be formidable.

Next week, Wenzel will start Makors Finale in the one-mile Budweiser Handicap as he inches closer to the Longacres Mile. A week later, Wenzel again figures to have his rivals surrounded in the Irish Day Handicap for 3-year-old fillies.

Belvoir rooting for hot pace

Champagneandcaviar, voted Emerald Downs’ top 3-year-old filly last year after her victory over Exclusive Diva in the Washington Oaks, will make her 2013 debut in the Washington State Legislators. By Van Nistelrooy, Champagneandcaviar is at her best around two turns, but trainer Howard Belvoir believes she has a fighting chance in the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators if the pace is hot.

“She’s a little behind the other horses because she lost a little bit of training,” Belvoir said of Champagneandcaviar. “But she has been training well and she should be coming at the end.”

◗ Emerald Downs director of racing Bret Anderson was able to fill an 11-race card for Sunday, prompting an earlier than usual post time. The first race, a 400-yard dash for Quarter Horses, will go at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. A total of 85 horses are entered on the card – 7.7 horses per race – and Anderson was able to attract 10-horse fields in races 5 and 11, and nine-horse fields in races 2 and 9.

◗ With a victory in Sunday’s seventh race, Olympic Lights would move into sole possession of second place on the track’s all-time wins list with 17. Already 2 for 2 at the meeting, the 9-year-old is tied with Market Master and Bob Stories at 16 wins apiece. West Seattle Boy holds the record for career victories at Emerald Downs with 21.