08/13/2007 11:00PM

Juvenile stakes winners very different off track


AUBURN, Wash. - Last weekend's twin 6 1/2-furlong stakes for 2-year-olds were superficially similar. Both No Constraints in Saturday's Knights Choice Stakes for fillies and Margo's Gift in Sunday's Strong Ruler Stakes for colts and geldings were heavily favored, and both asserted their superiority through the stretch after attending the early pace.

The winners of the two $45,000 stakes could hardly be more different, however.

No Constraints is, according to trainer Tim McCanna, "a bit of a pistol." The trainer kept her well apart from her rivals in the saddling area and she skipped both the walking ring and the post parade, yet she still appeared hot. In the race itself, she was late to change leads in the stretch, but when she did, she drew off to win by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:17.40.

"She is still a little green," McCanna said, "but the good news is that she has an awful lot of talent. We haven't even begun to get to the bottom of her yet. I know she has a lot more to give."

No Constraints, a daughter of Katowice and Nightatmisskittys who has now won 2 of 3 starts, is a full sister to Sundance Circle, a multiple stakes winner who is regarded by many as the best juvenile ever to race at Emerald Downs. She races for her breeder, Charles Dunn, but only by accident.

"I had her in last summer's WTBA yearling sale, but she got sick and I had to withdraw her," Dunn said. "I've always liked her, but I never really intended to race her myself."

Dunn still owns Nightatmisskittys, and he reported that a full sister to No Constraints will sell in this summer's WTBA yearling sale. He said Nightatmisskittys also has an Orientate colt on the ground and that she is currently in foal to Bernstein.

Margo's Gift is by the late Polish Gift, a very good freshman sire, but the bottom half of his pedigree is such that owner Ken Alhadeff was able to purchase him at last year's WTBA winter mixed sale for a modest $10,000. Nevertheless, he is a classy individual.

Margo's Gift was so composed in the paddock before Sunday's Strong Ruler that his owner asked trainer Doris Harwood if anything was wrong. Margo's Gift had in fact coughed one time after his blowout Thursday, a fact duly reported to Harwood by rider Ricky Frazier and to Alhadeff by Harwood, but the trainer was able to reassure the owner.

"I said, no, he is just well-behaved," Harwood said.

Margo's Gift soon proved there was nothing wrong, attending the pace from the outside before opening a daylight lead at midstretch, and then digging in late to hold off a very talented Courageous Son by a half-length in 1:16. The win was the third from as many starts for Margo's Gift, who was coming off a victory via disqualification in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda on July 21.

"It was another professional performance," Harwood said. "He doesn't make any mistakes and he does everything you ask of him. He's totally mature."

Margo's Gift's score gave Harwood eight stakes wins at the meet, tying an Emerald Downs training record held jointly by Steve Bullock and Bud Klokstad. She will attempt to break that record in Saturday's $100,000 Washington Oaks with Shampoo, who will be shooting for her fourth stakes win in a row.

Magna, Oregon horsemen reach deal

Magna Entertainment Co. and the Oregon division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association agreed Monday to a revised contract that will allow Portland Meadows to continue operating while MEC pursues the right to install Instant Racing machines at the track.

The revised contract, which must be approved by the Oregon Racing Commission, calls for a 2007-08 Portland Meadows meeting consisting of 60 days of racing from Oct. 7 through March 11, with a minimum of 540 races. Racing will be conducted on a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday basis until Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3, when Sunday racing will be dropped from the schedule.

The current contract, which will be superceded if Monday's agreement is approved, calls for a minimum of 720 races to be run at each Portland Meadows meeting. However, the track's financial plan depended upon its ability to install and operate Instant Racing machines, which offer parimutuel wagering on unidentified replays of previously run races. The ORC approved the new form of wagering, and the track spent more than $1omillion to prepare an area to house 150 of the machines, but plans to install the machines were halted last month when the state's attorney general issued a ruling deeming Instant Racing machines illegal under Oregon law.

The attorney general's ruling threw the 2007-08 Portland Meadows meeting into doubt, but Monday's agreement allowed racing and simulcasting to continue, albeit on a reduced level.

"What the agreement does is to keep racing alive while Magna pursues the right to operate Instant Racing machines through the courts," said Dick Cartney, executive secretary for the Oregon division of the HBPA. "It also gives the horsemen time to consider their options, if any."

In addition to agreeing to operate a 2007-08 meeting at Portland Meadows, Magna has committed to operating its statewide simulcast network at least through Sept. 30, 2008, by which time it feels the legal challenge to the attorney general's ruling on Instant Racing machines will have been resolved.