04/16/2010 12:00AM

Horse shortage still vexing

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AUBURN, Wash. - A threatened cancellation of Sunday's race card at Emerald Downs was averted Friday morning.

After two failed attempts to fill the card, the track's racing secretary, Bret Anderson, cobbled together an eight-race program with an average field size of 6.5 horses. First post is 2 p.m.

An acute horse shortage has played havoc with the early days of Emerald's 89-day meeting, which began April 9. A total of 153 horses competed in 23 races during the opening three-day weekend, down from 212 horses in 27 races in 2009.

A handful of trainers with Emerald stall assignments have yet to arrive with reinforcements. And an equine virus that pervaded the Emerald barn area in recent weeks pushed back training schedules for many horses who otherwise would be ready to run.

Anderson expects field sizes to normalize in the next couple of weeks.

"Trainers like Joe Toye, Mike Chambers, Dan Kenney - they aren't here yet, but they're on their way," he said. "Plus, some of the horses here aren't fit and ready. I think everything will be fine when we get into the next condition book at the end of the month"

Winning Machine, the leading 3-year-old at Emerald Downs in 2009, and the 2008 Longacres Mile champion, Wasserman, headline Sunday's featured seventh race, a $20,000 allowance at 5 1/2 furlongs. The race attracted a field of six, including four multiple stakes winners.

Winning Machine's 3-year-old season included victories in the one-mile Tacoma Handicap and the nine-furlong Emerald Derby and was capped by a $19.60 score in the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby at Hastings. All told, Winning Machine, trained by Doris Harwood, won 4 of 6 starts and $247,323. Gallyn Mitchell, aboard for the BC Derby victory in Vancouver, has the call Sunday.

Wasserman ran down True Metropolitan to with the 2008 Mile, one of five victories that season. He won only 1 of 8 starts in 2009, capturing the restricted Muckleshoot Tribal Classic at 1 1/16 miles in September. Regular rider Jennifer Whitaker has the call for trainer Howard Belvoir.

Noosa Beach, who won two sprint stakes last year at 3 and was a close third behind stablemate Winning Machine in the BC Derby, also has a big shot Sunday. So does Starbird Road, a 10-time winner at Emerald and former track record-holder at six furlongs.