06/13/2002 11:00PM

It took 100 pounds of clay - 480 times


AUBURN, Wash. - The word on the Emerald Downs backstretch earlier this week was that "they" had "changed the track," which was cause for concern or hope among horsemen, depending upon how their horses had been performing over the existing surface.

But according to track superintendent Wayne Damron, the changes he and his crew made were minimal.

"We just added 480 100-pound bags of clay to the surface on Tuesday," he said. "That sounds like a lot, but it's only a dusting.

"It's something we do every summer to help the track retain moisture during the hot weather. We're trying to bring the clay content back up to where it was last summer, and we're not there yet. I've got more clay coming, and I'll add it in stages so as not to make too big of a change at one time. Once it gets worked in, I don't think anyone will be able to notice any difference."

Ross runners doing fine on strip

Trainer Sharon Ross hopes there won't be any change in the track this Sunday, when the $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap is run at a mile. Both of Ross's entrants - Crowning Meeting and Silent Launch - have displayed a distinct liking for the local surface as it is.

Crowning Meeting has equaled two track records in as many starts this meet, winning the six-furlong Seattle Handicap in 1:07.80 and the 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap in 1:13.80. The six-furlong mark he shared with Handy N Bold has since been broken by another Ross-trained 8-year-old, Blue Tejano, who was timed in 1:07.60 on June 7.

Secret Launch made his seasonal debut in the Fox Sports Net, dueling Handy N Bold into defeat before grudgingly yielding to Crowning Meeting and Profound Secret in the final sixteenth.

"Both of these horses really like the surface, and I must say I've been pleased with it, too," said Ross. "It has been extremely fast, but the horses come bouncing off of it really nice. The track has more bounce to it this year, and I think part of the reason is that the level of the ground water is a little higher, which you can tell by looking at the water in the infield."

Ross said she thought another reason the track has been better is that Emerald didn't add Sports Grids, a synthetic track additive, to it this year.

"I thought the Sports Grids affected the way the horses hit the ground. Their feet stopped quicker, and that was jarring. I always had problems here with shins and body soreness in my horses, but this year I really haven't had those kinds of problems."

Sharon and her husband, Larry Ross, who now trains a string of horses in northern California, have raced at Emerald since its inaugural season in 1996 and rank second to trainer Bud Klokstad in stakes wins here with 23. (Klokstad has 29.)

"I think we have two really good shots in this one," Sharon Ross said. "Crowner is still on tilt. He worked six furlongs in 1:12 last Saturday with Gary Baze up, and he went great. It's tough to win three in a row with any horse, but he won four in a row a couple of years ago, so we know he can do it. He is the kind of horse who gets real high on himself when he wins, and it only makes him tougher."

Secret Launch, nicknamed Willie by Ross and owned by Willie Dejong, "is also doing really well," she said. "He worked the same day as Crowner, but not in company with him, and he went six furlongs in 1:12.40 with Oscar Mancilla up.

"All of his wins have come here, and we're looking forward to getting him back on track."

Ross said she has no qualms about running Crowning Meeting and Secret Launch against each other, especially because they have different owners and different styles. She said she also wished her husband had sent her their other two older stakes horses, Moonlight Meeting and Make Contact, for Sunday's race.

"I want as many chances as I can get," she said. "When the purse is $75,000, there is enough money to go around."

* Jockey agent Boone McCanna reported that veteran rider Ricky Frazier will begin accepting mounts here for Thursday's card. Frazier, who has 2,436 wins and nearly

$30 million in purse earnings to his credit, has been the leading rider in Chicago and New Orleans, and he was second to Russell Baze on the northern California fair circuit last summer. He broke his ankle in a gate mishap Nov. 7, first day of the Golden Gate meeting, and has not ridden since.