08/07/2006 11:00PM

Klokstad has 'Touch' in for $15K

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AUBURN, Wash. - Natural Touch drops into a likely spot for his first win of the season on Thursday, when he heads a field of eight older sprinters in the six-furlong feature for $15,000 claimers at Emerald Downs.

Natural Touch, a late-running son of General Meeting from the barn of trainer Bud Klokstad, could not make an impact against $25,000 optional claiming company in his first two starts this year. Dropped to the $20,000 claiming level for his most recent outing, he was victimized by an extremely slow pace and turned in an even effort to finish fourth after 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.80.

Natural Touch will be dropping to a career-low level on Thursday, and he should not have to worry about a slow pace. While he chased fractions of 23 seconds for the quarter and 46.80 for the half-mile in his last try, he will be facing three rivals who routinely cut much faster fractions. Be a Halo, Swiss Creek, and Big n'jazzy are all capable of shading 22 seconds for a quarter-mile and flirting with 44 seconds for a half, and all need the lead for their best performances.

The abundance of speed should make for a very hot pace, yet Be a Halo may be capable of withstanding the early heat and holding off the closers. Be a Halo, trained by Jim Penney, led throughout 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.80 when he defeated $25,000 optional claimers earlier this year, and he has not been seen in a claiming event since he was claimed for $50,000 at Arlington last summer.