08/20/2004 12:00AM

Front-runners galore in Mile

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AUBURN, Wash. - There is speed, speed, and more speed in Sunday's 69th renewal of the Grade 3, $250,000 , in which at least half of the 12 entrants prefer to run on or very close to the lead.

The Mile will be the highlight of an 11-race card that also includes the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff for fillies and mares at one mile.

The speed brigade includes the 118-pound highweight, Royal Place, who is coming off a pace-pressing win over Lord Nelson in the 1 1/8-mile Lt. Governor's Handicap at Hastings Park. A 4-year-old son of Out of Place trained by Rafael Becerra, Royal Place had the bad luck of drawing post 11 and will be hard-pressed to avoid a wide trip on the first turn with at least five front-runners to his inside.

After the draw, morning-line oddsmaker Lance Williams bumped Royal Place's odds from 7-2 to 9-2 to reflect the obstacle his post position represents. Bolulight, however, overcame that obstacle in 1992.

The 117-pound second-highweight, Poker Brad, will be the morning-line favorite at 3-1. Poker Brad was second to Sky Jack in last year's Mile, and he is coming off an authoritative two-length score over Mr. Makah in the 1 1/8-mile Mt. Rainier Handicap. Trainer Tim McCanna drew post 9 for his charge at the draw ceremony Friday morning, and the wide post might not prove a hindrance for the late-running Poker Brad.

Other front-runners in the Mile field are Gratitude Attack, Metatron, and Deputy Country, who drew the three inside posts; Salt Grinder, who drew post 6; and Verkade, who drew post 8. Of those, Salt Grinder may have the best chance to get loose on the lead. Salt Grinder, who will be shooting for a record fifth Longacres Mile win for trainer Jim Penney, is coming off two straight front-running wins in sprints, including a smart score over Best on Tap in the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap on Aug. 8. Salt Grinder will be ridden by Gallyn Mitchell, who rode Edneator to a wire-to-wire win in the 2000 Mile.

Stalkers in the Mile field are Best on Tap, Demon Warlock, and American Fury. Poker Brad is expected to come from slightly farther back, and Adreamisborn and Mr. Makah will likely come from last and next to last.

Special wagering on the Mile includes a daily double from Saturday's Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks to Sunday's Mile, plus a head-to-head bet matching Salt Grinder and Verkade.