08/20/2007 11:00PM

Last year's rest pays off for The Great Face

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AUBURN, Wash. - It has been a magical year for The Great Face, who began his 5-year-old campaign with a world-record-equaling performance at 5 1/2 furlongs on opening night of the Emerald Downs meet and reached a climax with a wire-to-wire victory in Sunday's Grade 3, $400,000 Longacres Mile. In between came three losses, to be sure, but also daylight wins in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race and in the 1 1/8-mile Mt. Rainier Handicap, which served as his Mile prep.

It wasn't like this last year, when The Great Face managed only two subpar outings before being turned out in May with a sore hoof that wouldn't heal. That was a sharp disappointment for trainer Tom Wenzel, who knew what an exceptional talent he had, but even then he saw a silver lining.

"I thought it might be a blessing in disguise," he said. "Last year, Flamethrowintexan was at his peak, and he had the same style as our horse. I'm really not sure The Great Face could have accomplished that much even if he had been healthy. I thought we could turn him out, let him grow and mature, and have a really good horse for this year."

Wenzel said it was as though The Great Face purged himself of all bad luck during his 11-month vacation.

"From the time I put him back into training this spring, everything has gone well," he said. "All his works went well, and with the exception of the one time he broke slowly in the Budweiser-Emerald, all of his races went well. Look at his last two races. He got clear after a half-mile in 46 and change. This is a horse who works in 45, so you know he's gonna be tough if he can go that slow."

It looked as though The Great Face would have his hands full early with the likes of Sinister Minister and Trickey Trevor in the Mile, but both broke slowly. Under a masterful ride by Juan Gutierrez, The Great Face relaxed through fractions of 23.60 seconds, 46.40, and 1:10.20 before being confronted by the favored Raise the Bluff nearing the eighth pole. Raise the Bluff and rider Tyler Baze, with momentum on their side, seemed certain to go right on by, but The Great Face allowed them to get to his jowl and no further, prevailing by a head in 1:35.20 on a track rated sloppy.

Baze called an objection, alleging that The Great Face had come out to bump Raise the Bluff in the stretch. That put track president Ron Crockett in an unusual position because he owns both horses. He obviously would have been happy with either outcome, but he admitted to being just a tad happier when the stewards let the original order of finish stand.

"I guess because The Great Face is a Washington-bred and we bought him at the local sale, I was leaning just a little bit in his direction," Crockett said. "Now he can be the poster boy for this year's sale."

Crockett's stable manager, Lance Williams, bought The Great Face as a yearling for $21,000, and with the $220,000 he picked up Sunday, he now has earnings of $337,159, including a record $292,875 at the current meeting.

The Mile purse was boosted to $400,000 this year in the hope that it would become an important prep for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which will be inaugurated this year at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26. Crockett has it in his power to realize that hope by running either The Great Face or Raise the Bluff in the BC Dirt Mile, but Williams is not ready to commit quite yet.

"The first step is always to see how they come out of the race," he said. "Then we'll have to find another race for each of them. The Great Face can run in the Muckleshoot Classic here on Washington Cup Day, but there are no races here for Raise the Bluff, so he'll go back down to Doug O'Neill in California. Based on their next races and our evaluation of their condition, we'll make a decision about the Dirt Mile."

Trickey Trevor runs well in defeat

Another who might consider the BC Dirt Mile is Trickey Trevor, who ran a gallant race after breaking slowly from the 12 post in Sunday's Mile. Trickey Trevor was hung out eight lanes wide going into the first turn, and rider Russell Baze could never get him closer than about five lanes from the rail. Nevertheless, he remained in the thick of contention into the stretch, and he was beaten less than four lengths while finishing sixth, just out of the money.

Baze, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and owner George Todaro did not leave empty-handed, however. They teamed to win Sunday's $100,000 Emerald Downs Distaff with Gemstone Rush.

Coffey runners come up short

If you want to feel badly for someone, trainer Junior Coffey would be a deserving candidate. Coffey not only saddled Raise the Bluff for his heartbreaking loss in the Mile, he sent out Firetrail to a half-length defeat in Saturday's $100,000 Washington Oaks. Firetrail led to the shadow of the wire under Macario Rodriguez, but she could not hold off the surging Rivoltella while racing on a sloppy track without the benefit of front shoes.

"I don't know where she lost her shoes, but she came back without them," Coffey reported. "The rider said he was afraid to ride her hard because he thought she was hurting, but she wasn't hurting. She was slipping. What a way to lose a race."

Who were Rivoltella's connections? They were the trainer and jockey of The Great Face, Tom Wenzel and Juan Gutierrez, and the owner of Gemstone Rush, George Todaro.

When you're hot, you're hot.