10/12/2005 12:00AM

Knight's Secret back with a bang


AUBURN, Wash. - Knight's Secret gave an astonishing performance here at Emerald Downs on Sunday.

Making only his second start and his first since April, the 3-year-old Knight's Secret blitzed a field of $30,000 maidens by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:08, just .40 off the track record held jointly by Blue Tejano and Salt Grinder. The second finisher, Aarons Last Dance, finished 7 1/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field of eight, lending credence to the clocking.

"We expected him to win, but we weren't expecting anything quite like that," said trainer Sharon Ross. "He could be special."

Knight's Secret, a son of He's Tops and Knight's Secretary, by Knights Choice, was purchased as a weanling by owner Leonard Strandley Jr. at the 2002 Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association winter sale for only $1,800. He trained last year at 2, but was prevented from racing by sore shins. Transferred to the Ross barn this year, Knight's Secret debuted against maiden special weight company on April 22, but finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite to eventual stakes winner Norm's Nephew.

"He came out of that race with a little problem and he actually worked once more, but then we decided to give him 60 days off and bring him back completely healthy," said Ross. "He came back bigger and stronger, and he worked even better than he had been working in the spring. We knew he could run a bunch."

The temptation is strong to keep going with Knight's Secret, and Ross didn't rule out a start for him in California, but the trainer is known for her patience.

"My inclination is to turn him out and let him develop further, then bring him back as a really good 4-year-old," she said. "I like to keep them around for a long time, you know, and I think he could have an outstanding career. He is a very sensible horse, versatile and rateable, and I'm optimistic that he'll go long like Youcan'ttakeme, No Giveaway, and some of the other horses by He's Tops."

No Giveaway goes to Santa Anita

No Giveaway, incidentally, has departed for Santa Anita and a probable engagement in the $100,000 Morvich Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf on Oct. 29. He may very well have wrapped up horse of the meeting honors before he left.

No Giveaway won 3 of his 5 starts at the meet, including the Governor's Handicap and the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. Given the preeminence of the Mile in Northwest racing, a win in that race alone might have been enough to secure the honors. Of the three locally based horses to win the Mile at Emerald Downs - Kid Katabatic, Edneator, and Sabertooth - only Sabertooth was denied horse of the meeting recognition, and that was by the truly exceptional 3-year-old Flying Notes. Wild Wonder was named horse of the meeting after winning his only local start in the Mile in 1998, and Demon Warlock got the title last year in large part because he ran second to Adreamisborn in the Mile.

Still, a case could be made for several other runners. Queenledo was the only horse to win three stakes at the meeting, and she was second in her other two starts. Halonator became the first horse to win eight straight races here, and she capped her string with a win in the Belle Roberts. Itstufftobegood won all six of his local starts, and he set or equaled track records in three of them. And, despite being upset by No Giveaway in the Mile, the suspicion lingers that Flamethrowintexan, who won 3 of 5 starts at the stand plus the Sir Winston Churchill at Hastings, is the better horse.

Be that as it may, No Giveaway won the Mile, after all. And while the Mile isn't everything, it is usually enough.

Claiming Challenge well supported

Emerald's director of racing, Paul Ryneveld, was pleased with the response from horsemen to Sunday's inaugural Stanislaw Ashbaugh Claiming Challenge, which will include five starter allowance races with combined purses estimated at $79,000. A total of 66 horses were nominated to the five races, which range in starter allowance prices from $3,500 to $15,000 and in distances from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and full fields are expected for most of the races.

Stanislaw Ashbaugh, a local law firm headed by owner Rick Beal, has sponsored a series of races with enhanced purses for claiming horses at Emerald for the past several years. This year, Beal and Ryneveld decided to cluster the races on the closing day card.

"Rick's idea was always to give some recognition, plus a chance to compete for more money, to claiming horses," said Ryneveld. "We decided the best way to do that might be to give them their own day. It's sort of a mini-version of Canterbury's claiming challenge, and it seems like an appropriate way to end our meeting. These are the horses who have supported our program all season long, and now they get their chance to be in the spotlight."

Market master out to reclaim record

Nine-year-old Bob Stories won for the 16th time at Emerald Downs on Monday, tying the mark for local wins held by 11-year-old Market Master. Bob Stories's share of the record is in jeopardy, however, because Market Master was slated to run here on Friday and he was also nominated for the 1 1/16-mile race for $3,500 starter allowance company on Sunday's Stanislaw Ashbaugh Claiming Challenge program.