09/01/2005 11:00PM

Filly takes shot in wide-open Emerald Derby

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AUBURN, Wash. - The stage is set for an extraordinarily competitive renewal of the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby, which will be run Monday at 1 1/8 miles.

With no California invaders to scare away the locals, a full field of 12 is expected. Of those 12, only four have won a stakes and none has won more than a single one.

It is, in short, a wide-open affair that could produce a stunning result. Trainer Tim McCanna believes in that possibility by starting Gins Majesty, who will attempt to become the first filly to win the local derby since the legendary Smogy Dew turned the trick in 1964. McCanna said he feels Gins Majesty merits a chance to break the male dominance of the derby for compiling a string of five sharp races, including a maiden win, an allowance win, a second to stablemate Queenledo in the Irish Day Handicap, a win over Queenledo in the Kent Handicap, and a second to A Classic Life in the 1 1/8-mile Washington Oaks on Aug. 20.

"Her numbers match up well with the boys, and I know she can run better than she did in the Oaks," said McCanna. "She missed 10 days of training with a leg problem before the Oaks, and she just came up a little short. She is ready now, so I'm going to give her a shot."

McCanna will also saddle the likely Derby favorite, Alexandersrun. Alexandersrun shipped here from Monmouth Park to win the 1 1/16-mile Seattle Slew Handicap on Aug. 7. He has remained in McCanna's barn since that race, drilling a half-mile in 46.80 seconds Aug. 24, the fastest of 37 works at the distance, and five furlongs in 58.60 on Tuesday, the fastest of six.

"He has been training great, and I would expect him to take a step forward off his last race," said McCanna. "I think he is the one to beat."

Cowboy Cruisser taking big step up

What will handicappers do with Cowboy Cruisser in the derby? On the one hand, he enters the race with the best last-race Beyer in the field, an 87, and he earned that figure in his first try around two turns. On the other, he was meeting $15,000 claimers that day, and just two races earlier he won his first start, against $6,250 maidens.

Cowboy Cruisser was claimed from owners John and Marianne Becker and trainer Richard Wright on the day he graduated, going to the barn of trainer Dan Markle. He then ran second against $15,000 claimers at six furlongs before winning by 13 3/4 lengths in his first mile try Aug. 21. On that day, Wright and the Beckers took him back.

"You hate to claim a horse back for that much more than you lost him for, but what can I say?" said Wright. "We got caught stealing with him. I think they made a good claim when they took him, and we made a good claim when we took him back. He's improving rapidly now, and it is clear that he wants to go long."

The big question for Cowboy Cruisser is whether he can repeat the monster effort in his most recent outing against the much tougher company he will face Monday.

"He got an easy lead last time, and I know that played into the way he ran," said Wright. "His confidence is so high right now, though, that I'm not sure it will matter whether he is on the lead in the derby. I'm looking for him to run another big race."

One might think that Markle and owners Tim and Sue Spooner - who claimed Cowboy Cruisser for $6,250, won with him, then lost him for $15,000 - would be as happy as a trio of clams about their association with the horse. That is not the case.

"It's a sore subject around my barn," said Markle. "We didn't want to lose him at all, and if we still had him we'd be doing the same thing Richard is doing. We'd run him in the derby."

Markle will still be represented in the derby, however, and he said he feels he has a live horse in Datzig, who fell just a neck short of winning the one-mile Tacoma Handicap in his first try around two turns June 26. Datzig has since registered a pair of fourth-place finishes in allowance company at a mile, but both of those efforts merit an asterisk.

"He just had nightmare trips in both of those races," said Markle. "Last time he must have been six or seven lanes wide around both turns. He got beat just over five lengths, and I know he lost a lot more ground than that. I feel we haven't seen his best race yet, and I just hope he can produce it in the derby. He just needs a good trip, and I know he hasn't used up any luck lately. He should have plenty left."

* The more than 200 yearlings slated to be sold in Tuesday's Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association summer yearling sale were scheduled to be on the grounds by Saturday night. The yearlings will be available for viewing Sunday and Monday, and Tuesday's sale will get under way at 1 p.m. in the M. J. Alhadeff Sales Pavilion.