04/29/2010 11:00PM

Local queen vs. fast invader at Emerald


AUBURN, Wash. - Front-running Clair Annette will attempt to defend her title in the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares Sunday at Emerald Downs. The first stakes race of the meeting, the Hastings is the sixth event on a 10-race program. First post is 2 p.m. Pacific.

A lightly raced 7-year-old, Claire Annette was a middling allowance horse until May 2008, when trainer Connie Bouslaugh and jockey Kevin Radke agreed to change tactics. Hustled to the lead by Radke in a $25,000 claimer at Emerald Downs, Clair Annette won easily and found her calling - she has been headed just once in eight starts over the past 23 months.

A two-time stakes winner in 2009, she captured the six-furlong Hastings by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:08.60, and then ran fourth in the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Stakes after a grueling speed duel with California-based sprinter High Resolve. Sidelined for three months because of throat surgery, she returned in September to win the 1 1/16-mile Belle Roberts in her last start.

Jockey Seth Martinez has the call on Clair Annette Sunday. They're sure to attract heavy support in the wagering. But the presence of newcomer Hallelujah Trail figures to complicate matters.

Purchased over the winter by Emerald-based owners John and Janene Maryanski, Hallelujah Trail has improved steadily in her nine-race career, winning four times and finishing in the money in all but one start. She won three consecutive optional-claiming races at Golden Gate last winter, took a two-month rest, and then resurfaced in Southern California.

In her Santa Anita debut, a six-furlong allowance race March 10, Hallelujah Trail finished second, a half-length in front of Free Flying Soul, third-place finisher in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and a length behind the winner.

Less than a month later, she made her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, carving fractions of 44.03 seconds for a half-mile and 1:08 for six furlongs before yielding in the final strides to finish fourth, a length behind winner Mona de Momma.

With those two races behind her, Hallelujah Trail looms a powerful presence in the Hastings. Four-time Emerald riding champion Ricky Frazier has the call.

The other four entrants are Elusive Surprise, a $250,000 Keeneland weanling purchase who finished last in the Wintergreen Stakes at Turfway Park in her most recent outing; Barbara's Love, a six-time winner in Southern California; No Flies On Doodle, a two-time stakes winner last year at 3; and Puff Maddie, a late-running shipper from Turf Paradise.