06/03/2004 11:00PM

History says Lasting Code should win again

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AUBURN, Wash. - Sunday's awkwardly named Washington State Legislators Stakes has the look of a reprise of the confusingly named Hastings Park Handicap, which was run here on May 9.

The two events have the distinction of being the track's only back-to-back stakes for the same division at the same distance - fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs. That has been the case for the last three seasons, and during that span, the two stakes have produced remarkably similar results. Fleet Pacific won both events in 2001, and Ema Bovary swept the two stakes last year. In 2002, Neon Queen won the Hastings Park and then finished second in the Washington State Legislators to Always a Dixie, who did not contest the earlier race.

That's good news for Lasting Code, who won this year's Hastings Park Handicap in commanding fashion. It was just the second start back from a 20-month recuperation from knee surgery for Lasting Code, a 5-year-old daughter of Lost Code, and there is scant reason to suspect that she won't be at least as tough now that she has two recent races under her girth.

"She is really doing well now," said Bob McMeans, who trains Lasting Code for owner Jerre Paxton. "I'm really glad Jerre decided to give her the extra time off. I know I could have gotten her back to the races last year, but giving her an extra year off made it possible to bring her back at 100 percent. She is about as good as she can get."

There are some differences between the Hastings Park and the Washington State Legislators, but the main one is probably that Lasting Code will face only five challengers instead of the 10 she defeated last time. Her weight assignment has also been bumped two pounds to 119, and of course the pace scenario could play out differently. In the Hastings Park, Lasting Code forced the pace from the outside before drawing off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Aunt Sophie in 1:15.

"We didn't really want her on the lead, but she got there under a hold," said McMeans. "I can't imagine she'll be very far off the pace in this one, so it should be a similar race."

Princess Forever should be around early . . .

If anybody can open an early advantage over Lasting Code it would appear to be Princess Forever, who held second after showing the way in last year's renewal of the Washington State Legislators. Trainer Bill Tollett would be happy with the same outcome on Sunday.

"Last year they let us go on the lead," Tollett said. "Ema Bovary came and got us and won easily, but nobody else could catch us. Lasting Code has a lot more early speed than Ema Bovary, so I'm not sure we can count on that happening again."

Tollett admitted he had reservations about running Princess Forever on Sunday, but he decided that second money is better than no money at all.

"There really isn't anywhere else to run her," he said. "If Lasting Code runs her race, I don't think there is any way we'll beat her. We're probably running for second money, just like everybody else. We're just hoping to pick up some pieces."

. . . and Aunt Sophie will come running late

Aunt Sophie probably has the best chance to upset Lasting Code, since she finished fast to edge Marva Jean for second in the Hastings Park, her seasonal debut.

"Maybe she'll improve second time out, but I really thought I had her ready to win last time," said Aunt Sophie's owner and trainer, Dr. Charles Barth. "I don't have any excuses for the last one, and the only thing that is different this time is that the field is smaller. That could help us, because there will be less traffic and she won't have to go so wide."

Barth believes Aunt Sophie's best chance to beat Lasting Code will come down the road.

"I'll feel better when she goes around two turns, because that's really her best game," he said. "Until then, we'll just stick with the program and hope for the best."

Lightly raced Cascade Corona a question mark

The wild card in Sunday's field is Cascade Corona, a 4-year-old daughter of Pine Bluff who was a spectacular winner of her lone start at 2 and her first start at 3. Cascade Corona raced twice more as a 3-year-old, finishing sixth on both occasions.

"She had a problem last year and we eventually had to turn her out," said Kay Cooper, assistant to trainer Jim Penney. "The question now is whether she is back to where she was, and that's what we hope to find out on Sunday."

Cooper is by no means certain that Cascade Corona will ever be able to fulfill the promise of her early career, but she is cautiously optimistic.

"She has been working really fast, and she has done it easily," Cooper said. "I'm not going to say she'll outrun Lasting Code first time back, but she is well-prepared and she has a big heart. She really wants to win. We'll see if she can."