04/26/2013 2:50PM

Emerald Downs: Winning Machine faces challenges from pair of youngsters

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AUBURN, Wash. – Jockeying for position in Emerald Downs’s handicap division begins in earnest Sunday when Winning Machine, runner-up in the 2012 Longacres Mile, tops a field of eight in a $21,000 allowance race at 5 1/2 furlongs. First post for the eight-race card is 2  p.m. Pacific.

Winning Machine pushed his career earnings past $450,000 last year with a pair of stakes victories at Emerald and trainer Frank Lucarelli said the 7-year-old Toccet gelding has been training smartly for his first start since September. He begins the new meeting as the division heavyweight, but a pair of horses making the often difficult transition from ages 3 to 4 – Makors Finale and D’honorable One – could have a say in the pecking order as early as Sunday.

Makors Finale was Emerald’s leading 3-year-old last year; D’honorable One was his primary nemesis. The two dead-heated for the win in the 6 1/2-furlong Auburn Handicap in June. Makors Finale bested D’honorable One by less than a length in the one-mile Coca-Cola Handicap three weeks later, and won the 1 1/8-mile Emerald Derby in August, with D’honorable One 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Both horses will be making their first start of 2013.

“Makors Finale is going fine,” trainer Tom Wenzel said. “He wintered at [owner] Karl Krieg’s farm on Whidbey Island, and then he spent some time at Pegasus, and then he came in February and we’ve had him since. He’s coming along.”

Wenzel said the quality of last year’s 3-year-old division should help ease the transition.

“I always thought it was a pretty significant step up, but it just depends on the group doing the transition, and the group of older horses remaining,” Wenzel said. “You face some better horses – Winning Machine is a legitimate racehorse, and there are a couple of others that guys have brought in here. But D’honorable One, Makors Finale, and Italian Boy were solid 3-year-olds and I think they have a chance to transition decently. We’ll see.”

D’honorable One will begin the year for trainer Blaine Wright after an eventful offseason.

“He trained all winter in California, but he never ran,” Wright said. “He’s a gelding this year, no longer a colt, and we’ll see if that makes a difference. He’s got to make that transformation from the 3- to 4-year-old year. He’s got a tough road with the old horse, Winning Machine, and Makors Finale.”

Others in the field are Drift King, who was claimed for $25,000 out of his most recent start at Santa Anita; Edge Forward, Hoist, Kooky Saluki, and 2009 Longacres Mile winner Assessment.