09/03/2010 11:38AM

Just about anybody could win sprint feature


AUBURN, Wash. – An eclectic cast of seven is scheduled to compete Sunday in the featured eighth race at Emerald Downs, a first-level optional $32,000 claimer for fillies and mares going six furlongs.

It’s a guessing game for handicappers. Cliff’s Secret, one of the leading contenders, is making her first start since she was eased in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap five weeks ago. Sweet Nellie Brown, a speedy 3-year-old, will try older horses for the first time. And Oneknightledo, who won 3 of 4 starts last summer, will try to reverse course after failing to make a serious impact in her season debut Aug. 15. With questions up and down the lineup, the wagering figures to spread out among as many as five legitimate contenders.

Cliff’s Secret, a $50,000 Keeneland yearling, seemed to be damaged goods when she made her career debut in a $5,000 maiden race in May. But Cliff’s Secret, who races for Mike and Amy Feuerborn and is trained by Jim Penney, won in a cakewalk and then added victories in two $17,500 claimers – running six furlongs in 1:08.60 in the second one – before jumping into stakes company in the Boeing. Well-backed in the wagering at 9-2, the 4-year-old Cliff’s Secret pressed the pace for six furlongs before hitting the brakes, jockey Francisco Duran easing her to the finish 35 lengths behind the winner.

Cliff’s Secret has worked slow and steady since the Boeing, tuning up with a five-furlong move in 1:02.60 last Monday. If she had a realistic excuse in the stakes, she could be a handful Sunday. She earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure the last time she sprinted, far superior to anything yet posted by her six rivals, and she will be reunited with jockey Juan Gutierrez, who was aboard for her first three starts.

Her stablemate, Sweet Nellie Brown, has lost five consecutive starts since a smashing debut in a 4-1/2-furlong maiden race last June. The margin of victory was 17 1/4 lengths, and for a moment, Sweet Nellie Brown was the talk of the track. But her season ended after a last-place finish in the Angie C Stakes in August, and she has yet to break through in three starts in 2010. Her most recent effort, a close third behind Runaway Speed in a 6-1/2-furlong allowance race Aug. 1, was her best to date.