09/14/2004 12:00AM

Lucarelli leads tight trainer race


AUBURN, Wash. - Three weeks ago, trainer Frank Lucarelli didn't like his chances of winning his second Emerald Downs training title at this meet. He was two wins behind four-time defending champion Tim McCanna and just one win ahead of a surging Jim Penney.

With five days of racing left in the 90-day meet, however, Lucarelli finds himself in front with 49 wins. McCanna has 47 and Penney 44.

"I've had three or four horses jump up and win when maybe they weren't supposed to," said Lucarelli. "At the same time, Penney has cooled off a little and Tim has gone through a little bit of a tough streak."

Still, Lucarelli knows he can't just sit on his lead.

"I see Tim has six horses in on Thursday, and I've only got two," he noted. "I've got four or five horses who are sitting on wins, but I've got to find places for them to run. It will all come down to who can get their live horses in the right spots. I think it will go right down to the wire. It should be fun."

While much attention has been focused on the race for the training title, Ben Russell has quietly narrowed the gap on leading rider Ricky Frazier, who has led the jockey standings from the first week of the meeting. Russell won with 8 of his 20 mounts last week to close within six wins of Frazier, 103-97, with roughly 50 races left to be run.

Topple learns to breathe properly

In his first two starts, the Grant Forster-trained 2-year-old Topple

was beaten 18 1/4 lengths and 27 1/2 lengths. In his third start last Friday, however, Topple won off by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:09.20 for six furlongs. He paid $24.40.

It was the kind of result that leaves handicappers scratching their heads, but it turns out there was a rather basic explanation for the form reversal.

"He wasn't breathing in his first two starts," assistant trainer John Holmes said. "The rider said he held his breath to the quarter pole, then he let it all out with a big gasp."

Holmes said he and Forster tried various remedies, including removing Topple's blinkers, but they can't be sure what prompted him to begin breathing normally.

"He never had a problem in the morning," said Holmes. "He had some outstanding workouts. I think he just got too nervous in his races, and that was how he expressed his anxiety. Finally, by his third race, he was feeling more comfortable and he did everything right. I don't think he'll have a problem again."

Yearling dispute update

Ralph Vacca, general manager of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association, reported that of the 22 yearlings whose sales were voided at the WTBA sale on Sept., 7, 11 had been formally sold by early this week. Two have been reconsigned to the WTBA winter sale, and the consignor of another has decided to keep his yearling. The remaining eight are still for sale.

The 22 yearlings in question were purchased for a total of $341,000 by bloodstock agent Brett St. Amand for Cecil Underwood of Calahoo, Alberta. Underwood, who has purchased horses at past WTBA sales, submitted a buyer's authorized agent form naming St. Amand as his agent for the sale. According to Vacca, the form included no limits on the number of horses St. Amand was to buy for Underwood, or the amount he was to spend. Nevertheless, Underwood called the WTBA late in the sale and said he would not accept the yearlings purchased for him by St. Amand.

Emerald Downs security personnel escorted St. Amand from the sales pavilion and denied him access to the grounds for 72 hours, but his license and parking pass were then restored. Last Sunday, the Emerald Downs stewards issued a signed statement attesting that St. Amand is currently in good standing as a bloodstock agent in the state of Washington.

Reached by phone on Monday, St. Amand insisted he did nothing wrong. He said he is seeking legal redress from Underwood and the WTBA for damage to his reputation and his business.

"The WTBA is at fault because they allowed me to sign slips on these horses without running a check on his [Underwood's] credit," he said.

Vacca said the WTBA followed standard industry practice in extending credit to a buyer who had purchased and paid for horses at previous sales. He said the WTBA has received no communication from St. Amand or his lawyer.

Underwood said on Tuesday that he had a verbal agreement with St. Amand for the agent to buy no more than two horses for up to $25,000, and to buy nothing without talking to him first. Underwood also said the buyer's authorized agent form he submitted was not notarized and was therefore invalid.

Mixed sale in Oregon

The Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders Association's annual mixed sale and stallion showcase will be held on Sept. 25, at Oakhurst Farm in Newberg, Ore. Fifteen stallions, including one Quarter Horse stallion, will be showcased before the auction, which begins at 1 p.m. A total of 120 Thoroughbreds and 11 Quarter Horses have been cataloged for the sale.