07/15/2010 11:00PM

Fresh faces in pair of sprints


AUBURN, Wash. - A pair of stakes races for 2-year-olds headline a 10-race card Sunday at Emerald Downs, with 10 of the total of 17 entrants yet to win a race.

The Strong Ruler Stakes for colts and geldings is the sixth race on the program, and the Knights Choice for fillies is race 8.

The stakes, both at 5 1/2 furlongs, are restricted to progeny of nominated stallions, and with Emerald's 2-year-old program less than two months into its run, the fields are crowded with maidens and first-time starters. In the Strong Ruler, six of the nine entrants have yet to win a race. In the Knights Choice, it's four of eight.

Couldabenthewhisky is the likely wagering favorite in the Strong Ruler. A son of Harbor the Gold trained by Bonnie Jenne, he raced to a four-length victory in a $30,000 maiden claimer June 13, running 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.20 seconds and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 61. That's about four lengths faster than anything recorded by his seven rivals in Saturday's race, and Couldabenthewhisky will be ridden for the first time by Ricky Frazier, who entered the three-day weekend with a 59-50 lead over Juan Gutierrez in the Emerald jockey standings.

Other top contenders in the Strong Ruler are Buckle, who overcame trouble early and late to finish second in a $30,000 maiden claimer June 27; recent maiden winners Gdanz Xpress and Winter Warlock; and first-time starter Big Bad Brown. Big Bad Brown is a half-brother to Sweet Nellie Brown, who won her 2-year-old debut by a track-record 17 lengths last summer.

A debut runner also looms large in the Knights Choice. Carrabelle Harbor, another top prospect by ascendant stallion Harbor the Gold, has worked exceptionally well for her first start, recording best-of-the-day moves at two furlongs (23.20 seconds), four furlongs (46 seconds from the gate), and five furlongs (59.40 seconds last Sunday in her final major tune-up). She will be ridden by Frazier for trainer Doris Harwood, who saddled a record 21 juvenile winners last summer and has led Emerald trainers in stakes victories the past three seasons.

After Carrabelle Harbor, the wagering figures to spread out among contenders The Gang and I, a game winner of a maiden race June 19 after a prolonged speed duel; Iforgottobeme, who blitzed $12,500 maidens by seven lengths in his last start, earning a 59 Beyer; and Bell Adieu, who rallied from a distant last to finish second in a $30,000 maiden claimer June 26.

First post is 2 p.m. Pacific.