06/04/2001 11:00PM

Fleet Pacific: Couldn't unload her, luckily


AUBURN, Wash. - In winning Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Stakes by a half-length over a resurgent Taste the Passion, Fleet Pacific became the first horse to score six consecutive stakes victories at Emerald Downs.

With the victory, she moved into a tie for second with Handy N Bold in total Emerald stakes wins with eight, one fewer than Ropersandwranglers. She also tied Kimos Friend, who won the day before, in total Emerald Downs wins with 14. In the process, she improved her record at Emerald to 14 wins from 25 starts for $260,060 in earnings, second only to Kid Katabatic's $322,350.

And yet there was a time - quite a long time, in fact - when nobody wanted her.

Maybe it was because she was essentially a freebie. Owner and breeder Mike Bradley said his sister-in-law won a raffle for a breeding to Colonel Stevens while attending an open house at Dean Essex's Granite Falls Thoroughbred Farm, and that he used his mare Pacific Patti to collect the prize. Fleet Pacific was the result, but she seemed no bargain when she developed contracted tendons, which required extensive therapy.

Bradley and his wife, Marie, decided to unload the troublesome filly as a yearling in the WTBA Winter Sale, putting a modest $4,000 reserve on her. Bidding stopped at $3,700.

Forced into racing Fleet Pacific themselves, the Bradleys sought to cut their expenses by offering trainer Steve Bullock half-ownership in the filly in exchange for training, but Bullock turned them down.

"I don't even like to think about how much that decision cost me," said the trainer. "It was a mistake, that's for sure."

It was the last mistake Bullock made with Fleet Pacific. Though she missed her 2-year-old season with a stifle problem, Fleet Pacific won her 3-year-old debut against $25,000 maidens, then won for $32,000 and $25,000 claiming prices. She spent the next two years under the care of Larry and Sharon Ross, winning a pair of stakes, then returned to Bullock's barn last year at 6. Fleet Pacific began her current winning streak last July, and there is no end in sight.

"She has just gotten better and better," said Bullock. "Now we start stretching her out again, and that's where she is at her best."

Fleet Pacific won on Sunday with her trademark style, going unchallenged on the lead through a half-mile in 45.20 seconds, then turning back a surprisingly strong late bid from Taste the Passion to prevail in 1:16 under regular rider Gallyn Mitchell.

Taste the Passion's connections were cheered by her effort. After being named the track's champion 2-year-old filly, Taste the Passion was winless last year and ran fifth in the opening day Ropersandwranglers Stakes. She showed signs of her former brilliance Sunday.

"It was more like what we were hoping to see from her," said trainer Bob McMeans. "I think she'll run better with a little more ground, but Fleet Pacific is tough to catch at any distance."

Markle runners go 1-2

Trainer Dan Markle saddled the first two finishers in Sunday's sub-feature, a $40,000 optional claiming affair for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs. April Surprise led throughout to win by nearly five lengths in 1:15 flat, earning a possible crack at next month's Independence Day Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, while Jam Feu closed for second in his Emerald Downs debut.

The 4-year-old Jam Feu was twice stakes-placed routing at Hastings Park last year. "He needed this race, so he should be a lot tougher next time," said Markle. "We're hoping he'll be a stakes horse going long here."

Handicap heavies get in works

Three others who figure to be strong factors in the handicap division drilled last week and seem to be within a month of starting.

Edneator, last season's Longacres Mile winner and Horse of the Meeting, worked three furlongs in 36.20 on Thursday.

Kid Katabatic, the 1997 Longacres Mile winner and Horse of the Meeting, and 1999 champion 3-year-old Country Echo both breezed a half mile on Friday, with Kid Katabatic being timed in 47.80 and Country Echo in 48.80.

* The Washington Horse Racing Commission will meet Thursday, June 7, at 9 a.m. in the City Council Chambers at Auburn City Hall. Among the items to be discussed are the status of Playfair, the question of whether fair meet victories should count against eligibility at Playfair and Emerald Downs, and various personnel issues.