05/10/2007 11:00PM

Immigration well worth the extra time and effort

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AUBURN, Wash. - It was a typical midweek morning for Immigration, who will be heavily favored in a small field of 3-year-olds in Sunday's $45,000 Auburn Stakes at Emerald Downs.

Under regular rider Jennifer Whitaker, Immigration walked onto the track at about 10:30 on Wednesday and stood stock still in the quarter chute for perhaps 15 minutes.

"That's something Jen makes him do to settle him down before he trains," said trainer Howard Belvoir. "We don't want him too aggressive in the morning. He used to resist it, but now I think he enjoys the time to collect himself."

Immigration then jogged to the six-furlong chute, where he spent another 15 minutes or so going into the gate and standing with a heavy canvas blanket draped over his hindquarters. The blanket is normally used for horses like the Belvoir-trained Tusko T., who dislike the feel of the metal sides of the stall against their flanks, but Immigration doesn't have that problem.

"He's good in the gate, but he has a tendency to crouch down like a human sprinter getting set on the blocks," said Belvoir. "He usually breaks fine, but he comes out of the gate so low that we're afraid he'll get knocked over if he gets bumped hard. We're just experimenting with the blanket to see if it will help him to stand up straighter."

Immigration followed his gate lesson with a gallop of more than a mile, then turned around and jogged the wrong way back to quarter chute gap. By then it was 11:15.

"That's about right," said Belvoir. "It takes about 45 minutes to train him. Sometimes we let him stand in the paddock for 15 minutes, too."

It doesn't take a math whiz to determine that there wouldn't be enough time in the day for Belvoir to train all of his 40 horses at the track the way he trains Immigration.

"I guess you could say he gets special treatment, but he is a special horse," said the trainer. "I think he is one of the best horses I have ever trained. I've always said Sundance Circle was the best, but he got hurt early and never got the chance to show what he could do as an older horse. I'm hoping this guy will have that chance."

Immigration posted 4 easy wins, 3 of them in stakes, from 5 starts to rank as the top juvenile on the grounds last year. He was not always so highly regarded, however. He was a buy-back for $6,000 when offered by breeder Jerry Woods at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association's 2005 summer yearling sale.

"He was by Delineator, and he had a dozen stitches in his head," Belvoir said of Immigration. "Everybody thinks the Delineators are flaky, and the stitches in his head seemed to prove it in his case. I've always liked Delineator, though. I think he is the only sire in the state who can produce certified runners on a regular basis."

Belvoir purchased Immigration privately after the sale, and he soon found that the yearling's stock was soaring.

"All of a sudden everybody liked him," said Belvoir. "One guy wanted to buy him from me and I told him the price was $10,000. The next day he came back and said okay, but I told him the price went up to $12,500. Then another guy wanted him and I said the price was $17,500, and finally somebody offered me $30,000 and I turned him down. By then I was starting to like him a lot."

Immigration confirmed the trainer's opinion of him last year, and Belvoir hopes he will be even better as a 3-year-old.

"He seems to have made a really nice transition from 2 to 3," said the trainer. "He's taller and wider, and he is more mature mentally. I'm looking for him to have a really good year, but if they are going to beat him it will probably be in this first one. I could have helped his chances by running him in a prep on opening weekend, but he is going to have a tough campaign this year and I don't want to run him too many times. I decided it would be better to be patient."

Call on Carson gets class test

Among Immigration's more intriguing challengers on Sunday is Call on Carson, who was claimed for a modest $12,500 out of a fourth-place finish at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 4. Trainer Dan Markle ran him back in a maiden special weight race here on opening night, and he smoked a big field of highly regarded horses by five lengths in 1:02.20 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I wasn't expecting that," said Markle. "I was just hoping I claimed a useful 3-year-old, but I ran him back where I did because there was nothing in the condition book between $17,500 and maiden special weight. The day after I entered him they hung up a $40,000 maiden race as an extra, and I was kicking myself for not waiting."

Call on Carson obviously fit with maiden special weight company, but will he fit with the likes of Immigration?

"I guess we'll find out," said Markle. "My exercise rider says he is training better than ever, and this is probably the right time to take on Immigration. Maybe we can surprise him before he gets a race under his belt."

Diligent Prospect sidelined

Trainer Bill Tollett said that multiple stakes winner Diligent Prospect will be out indefinitely after grabbing a quarter and tearing off a chunk of his hoof in an allowance race here on opening night.

"We have to wait for him to grow a new hoof, and it is hard to predict how long that will take," said Tollett. "We're giving him all kinds of stuff to promote growth, but every horse is different. Hooves are like fingernails. Some people grow them faster than others."