05/20/2010 11:00PM

Injury opens door in Auburn

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AUBURN, Wash. - When news of Hollywood Harbor's season-ending injury broke Thursday, Sunday's $50,000 Auburn Handicap at Emerald Downs was thrown into disarray.

Without its 2009 juvenile champion in the field, Emerald's first stakes for 3-year-olds was reduced to a five-horse affair, with two leading contenders -- Forener and Posse Power -- and three relative longshots. Run at 6 1/2 furlongs, the Auburn is the sixth race on a 10-race program that begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.

A three-time stakes winner last summer, Hollywood Harbor suffered an injury to his left front suspensory ligament during training and will be sidelined for at least six months, trainer Chris Stenslie said. A procedure that takes stem cells from the hip and injects them into the suspensory to promote healing was performed Wednesday, Stenslie said, and the long-term prognosis is good.

"I'm just sick because he was training so good," Stenslie said. "But we'll give him all the time he needs and then hope to have a good 4-year-old next year."

Forener, unbeaten in three starts, and Posse Power, a hard-luck third in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate in February, are the horses to beat in the Auburn.

With no other front-runners in the field, Forener could have things his way in the early going. Trained by Vann Belvoir, Forener has yet to be headed in a race, and his latest victory, in a second-level allowance dash April 17, was accomplished with relative ease. Forener has worked brilliantly in recent weeks, including a May 9 work in which he zipped six furlongs in 1:10.80. Regular rider Gallyn Mitchell has the call Sunday.

Posse Power improved sharply in California over the winter. He won his maiden in January, won a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles in his first start against winners, and then finished third in the nine-furlong El Camino Real after a troubled trip. Overmatched in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his most recent outing, Posse Power figures to find Sunday's rivals more accommodating but will have to catch Forener.

Others in the field include Saratoga Boot, an impressive maiden winner in his first start at the meeting; Clear to Canada, the wagering favorite in the Jack Diamond Futurity at Hastings last September and second behind Forener in his Emerald Downs debut May 17; and Seven Torrents, a three-time stakes winner at Portland Meadows this winter.