07/24/2006 11:00PM

Emerald Express more like Belvoir's Express


AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Howard Belvoir kept a remarkable streak alive on Saturday when he saddled Immigration to win the six-furlong Emerald Express Stakes, the first stakes of the season for 2-year-old males.

It was the fourth straight year that Belvoir had sent out the winner of the Emerald Express. He won the race with Sundance Circle in 2003, with Seattles Best Joe in 2004, and with Tusko T last year, when he also saddled runner-up Courting Seattle.

"I think it is mainly luck," Belvoir said when asked to account for his accomplishment. "When you think of all the things that can go wrong with young horses, with the shins and the viruses and all, then you realize you need a lot of luck just to get them up to this race four years in a row. To win it four years in a row, well, it has to be kind of a fluke."

It helps to have good stock, however, and Belvoir has certainly had that in recent years. Sundance Circle ran the fastest Emerald Express ever when he got the distance in 1:09. Seattles Best Joe validated his Emerald Express win by going on to win stakes in both northern and Southern California. And Tusko T logged the second-fastest Emerald Express win, 1:09.60, while beating his stablemate.

Belvoir said Immigration is a different type of horse than any of his previous Emerald Express winners, but that he is not unlike Courting Seattle.

Courting Seattle has won a pair of sprint stakes since running second in last season's Emerald Express, and he sits atop the track's 3-year-old division by virtue of his recent second in the Tacoma Handicap to Livinonlovanadime, who is sidelined with a shin injury.

Belvoir purchased Immigration for just $6,000 at last October's WTBA Sale, then sold shares in him to partners Dan Corby and Harley Hoppe. The colt won his first start by a diminishing

three-quarters of a length, covering 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.60, then moved forward strongly by winning the Emerald Express by four lengths in 1:09.80.

"I was expecting him to run a lot better this time," said Belvoir.

"I didn't have him real tight for his first start, and I thought he looked a little soft. He was muscled up pretty good for this race, so he had to run better. I think he'll keep improving, too, because he is still growing and he acts like he wants to go farther."

Chestnut Lady taking a brief rest

Kay Cooper, daughter and assistant to trainer Jim Penney, reported that Chestnut Lady came out of her win in Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Kent Handicap in good order and will be pointed toward the $100,000 Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 19.

"She is back at our farm enjoying a little R and R right now, but we'll bring her back to the track in a week or so and start getting her ready for the Oaks," said Cooper. "That race is all that is left for her at this meeting, and it has been our goal for her all along."

Chestnut Lady's authoritative seven-length win in the Kent eased some of the pain of tough beats in the six-furlong U. S. Bank Stakes and the mile Irish Day Handicap.

In her only other start at the meeting, Chestnut Lady finished a distant fifth to Diamond Dollars in the 6 1/2-furlong Federal Way Handicap.

Tollett beefs up the barn

Trainer Bill Tollett, whose barn is already loaded with stakes runners, may have a couple of new ones. One is the rapidly improving Oh Yes I Am, a 4-year-old daughter of Alphabet Soup who won Friday night's six-furlong feature for $30,000 claimers in a sizzling 1:08.40.

"She is really coming around now," said Tollett. "She had a little problem when we claimed her last year, but she is over that now and she is starting to show what she can do. She is bred to route, too, so she might turn out to be something special."

Another potential new stakes runner for him is Grafton, who was claimed out of a win for $50,000 at Hollywood on June 30. Grafton, a 6-year-old son of Rahy, came back and ran third, beaten only a length, when racing 1 1/16 miles on turf in an $80,000 claiming race at Del Mar on Monday.

"We're thinking of running him in the Longacres Mile," said Tollett. "He has never raced on dirt, though, so we'll need to see if he can handle this track."