06/18/2007 11:00PM

Free Cocktails likes track

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AUBURN, Wash. - Free Cocktails will head a field of eight older sprinters in Thursday's Emerald Downs feature, a six-furlong dash for horses eligible to be claimed for $25,000.

Free Cocktails, a 6-year-old son of Free House from the barn of trainer Sharon Ross, won 3 of 5 starts at Emerald last year, including a victory on the $25,000 optional claiming level at 6 1/2 furlongs, and he has a 7-for-16 career mark here. He began his current campaign with a ninth-place finish against $32,000 claimers on May 19, but he may have needed that race. He also may have been trying to avoid a speed duel with the eventual winner, the class-dropping Salt Grinder, who was claimed that day by Ross and Rick Beal, the owner of Free Cocktails.

Rider A.L. Gutierrez likely will send Free Cocktails to the lead on Thursday, since he has done his best running on the front end.

Free Cocktails probably will be challenged early by Potrero Station, Mazel Power, and Eastern Accent, all of whom have early foot. If the early pace is fierce, the door might open for Tusko T.

Tusko T. comes off a sharp second to Knight's Secret in an optional $25,000 claimer on June 3. Knight's Secret won that race in a scintillating 1:14.20, and Tusko T. finished just three lengths behind after stalking the pace.

Call Columbo, who came from off the pace to defeat $20,000 company at 6 1/2 furlongs in his season debut on May 11, also could benefit from a fast and contested pace.