05/13/2003 12:00AM

He's fast, just not very prompt


AUBURN, Wash. - Six-year-old Illustrious Legend made a very tardy debut on May 24 of last year, but it was worth waiting for. A Doris Harwood-trained gelding, Illustrious Legend blitzed bottom level maidens in 1:09.40 for six furlongs, winning off by 5 1/2 lengths at 6-1.

He is late making his second start as well, but he could pay similar dividends when he takes on six other non-winners of two, each eligible to be claimed for $8,000, in Thursday's six-furlong feature at Emerald Downs.

Though Illustrious Legend's maiden win came for a modest $5,000 tag, he defeated Taylor's Comedy and Barfly Begone, each of whom returned to graduate in his next start. Barfly Begone went on to win five races at the meet to rank as a contender for claimer of the meeting honors.

Illustrious Legend, a half-brother to 13-time winner Tweed, sports a work tab similar to the one before his maiden win, and he will again be ridden by Juan Gutierrez at 120 pounds.

Those who are reluctant to back Illustrious Legend off a layoff of nearly a year may have a hard time deciding between Majestic Willie and Change of Plans, who dead-heated for second behind Rio Sage while racing under the same conditions on May 2. Each of the 4-year-olds was making his first start of the year and figure to move forward with a race under his girth.

Majestic Willie picks up two pounds on Thursday, when both runners carry 120, and may be at a very slight disadvantage on that account.

* There is a special 3 p.m. first post for Thursday's first race.