05/26/2010 11:00PM

Gerry Howard Inaugural kicks off Yavapai meet


The Arizona racing scene makes it seasonal migration about an hour and a half north after the long Turf Paradise stand near Phoenix as Yavapai Downs opens its summer meet Saturday. The 56-day meet runs through Sept. 7. Racing will be held on a Saturday-through-Tuesday basis, the only interruption coming on July 3-6 when racing shifts to the brief four-day Coconino County Fair in Flagstaff. First post has been moved earlier this year, to 12:40 p.m. every day.

This marks the ninth meet at Yavapai. The mile track, located at the Yavapai County fairgrounds, was built to replace an aged and dilapidated Prescott Downs. It gives the Arizona circuit a break from the oppressive heat of the Phoenix summers before racing returns to Turf Paradise in the fall.

The opening-day $20,000 Gerry Howard Inaugural Handicap pits last year's one-two finishers Capt. Joe Blow and Rule by Force among seven 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs. Rule by Force may have been beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Capt. Joe Blow in last year's running, but the 5-year-old Rule by Force is still the 123-pound highweight and horse to beat on Saturday. Trained by Lyman Rollins he's won 5 of his 10 local starts, finishing second 4 other times. He hasn't run since Aug. 2 when second to 2009 Yavapai horse of the meet Headed for Home, but he has worked well and run well off the bench. Vince Guerra rides.

Capt. Joe Blow, last year's Gerry Howard winner, didn't race for nearly 10 month, but when he returned at Turf Paradise he won an optional claimer. He next tried $16,000 claimers at Hollywood Park May 1, and after dueling on the pace finished sixth. Trained by Lanny Sharp, Capt. Joe Blow worked a bullet four furlongs in 46.40 here May 22. Carl Williams rides at 122 pounds.

White Spar could be very dangerous for new trainer Harry Nelson. In 2008 he may have been the best 3-year-old sprinter on the Arizona circuit, but he ran just four times in 2009 with only a second and a third to show for it. His form picked up at Turf Paradise this year and he comes here off a smashing four-length win in the Grand Canyon Handicap there April 24 under Dennis Collins. Collins rides the 5-year-old again at 122 pounds.