06/01/2006 11:00PM

Familiar trio in Pepsi-Cola


AUBURN, Wash. - Courting Seattle, the authoritative winner of last month's six-furlong Auburn Stakes, will attempt to stretch his speed another sixteenth on Sunday at Emerald Downs when he takes on nine other 3-year-olds in the $55,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Courting Seattle, a winner of 3 of his 4 career outings, came from just off the pace of runner-up Ballou Slew to win the Auburn by nearly three lengths in 1:08.60 in his first start of the year. Last season he ran off easy wins over maiden special weight and allowance company before finishing a close second to stablemate Tusko T. in the six-furlong Emerald Express Stakes.

In the Pepsi-Cola, Courting Seattle will again face Ballou Slew and Tusko T., who finished third in the Auburn. Courting Seattle and Tusko T. are both trained by Howard Belvoir, but they race as separate entries because they have different owners. Courting Seattle will carry 119 pounds with Jennifer Whitaker riding, while Tusko T. gets in under 118 pounds with Juan Gutierrez.

Ballou Slew, who conceded four pounds to Courting Seattle in the Auburn, will concede just one pound while carrying 120 on Sunday. Ballou Slew, a son of Slewdledo trained by Jim Fergason, won all four of his starts at Portland Meadows and ran fourth in his lone outing at Golden Gate Fields before contesting the Auburn. Clark Jones is again set to ride.

The highweight in the Pepsi-Cola is Keagan at 121 pounds. Keagan will be making his Emerald Downs debut for trainer Bill Tollett, who claimed him for $80,000 at Hollywood Park on May 17. Keagan, a Washington-bred son of Basket Weave, won three stakes at Turf Paradise through February. He then shipped to Sunland Park and ran fifth to Wanna Runner in the $600,000 WinStar Derby on April 1 before trying the turf course at Hollywood Park on the day he was claimed, when he ran fourth. Tollett has named Leslie Mawing to ride.

The sleeper in Sunday's field could be Black Jack Joe, who ran second in maiden special weight company in his lone start here last year. Black Jack Joe, a son of In Excess who is trained by Roy Lumm, then won a maiden special weight sprint at Golden Gate before going unplaced after dueling through rapid fractions in the Mill Valley Stakes at Golden Gate on Nov. 26. He is returning to action with a full set of fast workouts and may be the one to catch under Sandi Gann at 116 pounds.