09/02/2011 4:13PM

Emerald: Simons Wonder Choice tops Quarter Horse race

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AUBURN, Wash. − Quarter Horses, a sideshow through the first five months of the meeting, will be the marquee attraction Sunday at Emerald Downs. Ten fast actors, led by Los Alamitos invader Simons Wonder Choice, are set to compete in the $60,000 Bank of America Emerald Championship Challenge over 440 yards. The race is sponsored by the American Quarter Horse Association, and the winner gets an automatic berth in the $350,000 Championship Final at Los Alamitos on Oct. 29.

Simons Wonder Choice, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Valentin Zamudio, has moved quickly up the class ladder. He began his career in low-level maiden claimers at Los Alamitos, where he has made each of his 15 career starts, before ascending into the stakes ranks this summer. Most recently, he finished fourth, two lengths behind the winner, in a Grade 1 event restricted to horses bred in California. Before that, Simons Wonder Choice missed by 1 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity.

Carlos Huerta, a top rider at Los Alamitos, will accompany Simons Wonder Choice to Emerald. They’ll break from post No. 8, and if history is a guide, Simons Wonder Choice will go directly to the front and will be the one to catch Sunday. He broke slowly in the Vessels but shot to the lead in midstretch, and while he couldn’t hold on, his initial burst of speed was remarkable. They’ll have to catch him Sunday.

A couple of sharp horses from Boise – Vodka Soda No Fruit and A Royal Dervish – could offer the sternest challenges to the favorite. Both horses are trained by Kurt Calton, who has won with 15 of his 37 starters in 2011, a win rate of 41 percent. A Royal Dervish blazed 400 yards in 19.65 seconds in his last start in Idaho. Vodka Soda No Fruit has won five of his last seven starts.

The Emerald Championship Challenge, the eighth race on a 10-race card, will be followed by a $21,000 allowance race for Thoroughbreds at 1 1/16 miles. The seven-horse field includes a pair of former Longacres Mile winners, though Assessment, who won the Mile in 2009, and Wasserman, who won in 2008, have one win between them in 2011. They could have their hands full with Winning Machine, who finished a close second behind Emerald’s leading handicap horse, Noosa Beach, in the 1 1/16-mile Mt. Rainier Handicap on July 24, and hard-hitting allowance runners He’s All Heart, J P Jammer, and Seven Torrents.