07/20/2006 12:00AM

Maiden winners move up into stakes

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AUBURN, Wash. - A full field of 12 juveniles will contest Saturday's $45,000 Emerald Express Stakes at six furlongs, the first stakes of the season for 2-year-old colts and geldings.

Favoritism is up for grabs, but maiden special weight winners Immigration and Wild Cycle seem certain to draw support. Immigration, a son of Delineator from the barn of trainer Howard Belvoir, led throughout to win by three-quarters of a length over a fast-finishing Pirates Deputy in his 5 1/2-furlong debut on June 25, which was run in 1:04.60.

Liberty for Al, the third finisher behind Immigration, was beaten five lengths by the winner, and that could be significant. Liberty for Al returned to face Wild Cycle at 5 1/2 furlongs on July 8 and was beaten just a head by that rival in 1:05. That was the first race for Wild Cycle, a son of Free at Last who is trained by Aubrey Villyard.

Saturday's field also includes three runners who graduated at the maiden $40,000 level. Carter Hall won with 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.60 seconds on May 29, Windsong at Last scored with 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.20 on June 18, and Onehundred Days ran five furlongs in 58.40 seconds on July 9.

Carter Hall and Windsong at Last, like Immigration and Wild Cycle, led throughout in their maiden victories. Onehundred Days came up from fifth position and drew clear by 3 1/4 lengths, and that could give him a strategic advantage over the speed brigade. Onehundred Days, a son of Slewdledo who is trained by Tim McCanna, could find many of the front-runners coming back to him in the lane.

If a fast finish is what is needed to win the Emerald Express, Pirates Deputy might be the one to beat. Though still a maiden after running second to Immigration in his only start, Pirates Deputy made a big impression by closing more than six lengths in the final furlong to just miss. Pirates Deputy, a California-bred son of Bertrando, is trained by Villyard.

Another late-runner who merits consideration is Shum, who ran

second to Carter Hall in his only start, on May 29. Shum, a son of Petersburg who is trained by Pat Mullens, nearly overcame a tardy start, a wide trip, and a surface that was favoring speed. His late kick fell just a nose shy of catching the winner at 4 1/2 furlongs, and he should appreciate the added ground on Saturday.