05/26/2010 12:00AM

Lots of speed, contenders in feature

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AUBURN, Wash. - An evenly matched field of nine is scheduled to compete Friday in the feature race at Emerald Downs. How evenly matched? A strong argument could be made for any of the nine; it's the most vexing handicapping challenge of the meeting.

Racing begins at 6 p.m. Pacific and the six-furlong feature, a first-level allowance for older horses with a $25,000 optional claiming price, is the sixth of seven races.

With a couple of former stakes winners dropping in for the claiming price, it might seem prudent for a handicapper to eliminate the three entrants still seeking their second career victory. But those three include Noble Juan, who raced to an impressive maiden win in his first start at the meeting; Zagreus, who was stakes placed in 2008 and finished second in allowance company in his most recent start three weeks ago; and Taif, who arrives from Keeneland with impressive credentials.

The pace should be quick. Olympic Lights won 4 of 7 starts at Emerald Downs last summer, all in front-running fashion. Chickasaw Park won three times, from on or just off the pace. Olympic Lights will be making his first start at the meeting; Chickasaw Park has had a needed prep race.

And then there's Westsideclyde, a two-time stakes winner making his first start in two years. One of the fastest horses on the West Coast before injuries stalled his career, Westsideclyde has run six furlongs in 1:08, 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.40, and one mile in 1:34.20, leading gate to wire each time.

Emancipated, a hard-hitting claimer, could have a say in the outcome. He just missed against Classielyte, a three-time winner at the meeting, in a $15,000 claiming sprint May 14.

A pair of rapidly improving 4-year-olds round out the field. Ugottabcatty finished a close fourth, less than a length behind the winner, in a second-level allowance May 9. He could be sitting on a peak effort in his third start following an eight-month layoff. Inhoc Signo Vinces, who was running in $4,000 claimers as recently as last September, has three wins and two second in his past six starts while steadily climbing the class ladder.