08/05/2003 12:00AM

Fourth Governor's for Handy N Bold

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AUBURN, Wash. - Handy N Bold became the first horse to win 10 stakes races at Emerald Downs on Sunday when he scored an unprecedented fourth victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap, leading throughout to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:14.20.

He paid $36.60.

The seemingly irrational price can only be understood in context. First, the Governor's marked the local debut of the classy Southern California invader Total Limit, who was favored at 2-5, and the return of 2002 horse of the meeting Flying Notes, who went off at 5-2. Secondly, Handy N Bold's current form left a lot to be desired.

The 8-year-old Handy N Bold had not won since taking the 2001 Governor's Handicap as the favorite, and had not finished in the money in four starts this year. Owner Doris Orr, who claimed Handy N Bold out of his first start at 2 for $25,000, and trainer Charles Essex had decided to retire him if his form did not improve on Sunday, but they wanted to give him one last chance to show that he could still compete on the highest level.

"Nothing had gone right for him this year," Essex said. "Every time he ran, there was something that went wrong either before or during the race. We needed to see how he would run if everything went smoothly."

Things went smoothly enough on Sunday. Handy N Bold popped out of the gate on top and turned back an early challenge from Total Limit along his inside. He then outlasted Flying Notes, who had ranged up to press the pace from the outside, and finally staved off a late bid from Salt Grinder, who finished second by a length over Flying Notes.

"He picked up the bit when Flying Notes eyeballed him on the turn, and when he saw that Flying Notes was starting to drop back his heart really got big," said Ben Russell, rider of Handy N Bold. "I knew there was no way anybody was going to catch us."

Handy N Bold's stellar effort certainly delayed his retirement, and it may have earned him a shot at the meet's biggest prize, the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 24.

"We've got to consider the Mile now," Essex said. "He ran second in the Mile two years ago, and he looked like his old self today."

Total Limit's status undecided

Trainer Grant Forster reported on Tuesday that Total Limit, who finished fifth of six under Gary Baze in the Governor's, apparently exited the race in good shape.

"He seems to be fine," Forster said. "Gary said he struggled with the track. He had been working brilliantly in bar shoes, but we raced him in regular shoes so he could get better traction. It defies conventional wisdom, but maybe we need to put the bar shoes back on him."

Forster said he would reach a decision about whether to continue pointing Total Limit to the Longacres Mile after talking with owner Herman Sarkowsky later this week.

Americas Pride a successful claim

It isn't often that a horse wins a stakes race immediately after being claimed, but that's what Americas Pride did when she defeated four 2-year-old fillies in Saturday's Knights Choice Stakes. She completed the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.

Americas Pride, an Oregon-bred from the first crop of the promising sire Baquero, was claimed from a win against $16,000 company on July 10 by trainer Bill Thompson for the partnership of David Israel, Al Adams, and Jack Garrison. She won her maiden over $16,000 claimers in her fourth start on June 21 and has now won three in a row.

"We were excited about Baquero, so we watched this filly pretty closely and it seemed like she was improving with every race," Adams said. "When she was entered back for $16,000 after winning for $16,000 it seemed too good to be true, but we took a chance on her."

Americas Pride won by 2 1/4 lengths over The Known Q. despite ducking in exiting the 6 1/2-furlong chute.

"We lost some ground at that point, but when we got to the three-eighths pole and nobody had taken my lane along the rail, I knew we'd win," rider Kevin Radke said. "I had a ton of horse."

* Radke won three races Saturday and five more on Sunday to increase his meet-leading win total to 108. Radke, who led all riders last year with 143 wins, is on pace to break Vann Belvoir's meet record of 148 wins, set in 1996.

* Catalogs are now available for the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association summer yearling sale, which will be held Sept. 2 in the Morris J. Alhadeff Sales Pavilion on the grounds of Emerald Downs. A total of 214 yearlings have been cataloged, including colts by Kentucky Derby winners Go for Gin, Grindstone, and Real Quiet.

* Willie the Cat, who was undefeated in three starts here last year as a 3-year-old, has resumed training at Woods Creek Training Center in Monroe, Wash., according to Lance Williams, stable manager for owner Ron Crockett. Williams said Willie the Cat, who is by Delineator and out of Cozie Angie, by Cozzene, will be pointed for a winter campaign on the turf in Southern California.