06/06/2005 11:00PM

Marva Jean finally discovers best time to unleash speed

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AUBURN, Wash. - Marva Jean has one great asset as a racehorse - she can run faster than just about anybody for two or three furlongs.

It has been the task of Frank Lucarelli, Marva Jean's resourceful trainer, to figure out how best to capitalize on that asset. When she was 2 and 3, Lucarelli used Marva Jean's speed at the beginning of her races and was rewarded with three good wins from 12 starts. Too often, however, and always in stakes, she tired in the late going.

Last year, Lucarelli decided to use Marva Jean's burst at the end of her races, and he reaped a pair of stakes placings, including a head loss to Aunt Sophie in the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Handicap. In the final analysis, though, she was winless in nine starts as a 4-year-old.

With just one option left, Lucarelli has used Marva Jean's speed in the middle of her races this year. That tactic, like Baby Bear's porridge, has turned out to be just right. Marva Jean posted her third win from as many starts as a 5-year-old in last Sunday's $40,000 Washington State Legislators Handicap at Emerald Downs, and she never used her burst of speed to more devastating effect.

Under Mick Ruis, Marva Jean was accompanied by Top Penny through the initial quarter-mile but opened a daylight advantage on the turn while getting the half-mile in 43.80 seconds. Marva Jean led by four lengths with a furlong to run and held on to score by a half-length over the fast-finishing Ruby Dawn in 1:15.60. Marva Jean earned an 80 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I just tried to relax her as much as I could up the backstretch, but when she hit the turn and switched to her left lead she just took off," said Ruis. "It kind of breaks their hearts when she opens up on them that way. I think they get a little discouraged."

Lucarelli doesn't think all of the improvement that Marva Jean has displayed this year is the result of tactics, however.

"I think she is kind of a late bloomer," he said. "You would think that a horse with her kind of speed would be precocious, but she has improved with age and I think it is because she has gotten so much bigger and stronger over the last couple of years. She would probably be better now no matter what kind of tactics we were using."

Lucarelli said Marva Jean, who races for Chris and Diane Randall, will now be turned out for two weeks.

"I've learned over the years that she is good for about three races, then she starts to tail off," he said. "Now is the time to give her a break, and when we bring her back we will look for an open allowance sprint."

Lucarelli said his plan is to pass the route stakes with Marva Jean.

"She is having her best year, so if we are ever going to try her around two turns again we should probably do it this season," he said. "I will talk to Chris about it, but our original thinking was that we would keep her sprinting."

Youngsters flash stakes potential

The 2-year-old division heated up with a pair of maiden special weight races last weekend, and the winners of both races should be heard from in upcoming stakes.

Ask Kathy, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Louis Quatorze from the barn of trainer Steve Bullock, won Saturday's straight maiden race for fillies by 2 3/4 lengths in 57.40 seconds for five furlongs and earned a Beyer of 58. Courting Seattle, a Florida-bred son of Doneraile Court trained by Howard Belvoir, won Sunday's race by 5 1/2 lengths in 57.60 and earned a 62 Beyer.

Both winners were purchased for $17,000 at last September's Keeneland Sale, and both were subsequently made fully eligible for the Northwest Race Series. The series begins with a pair of $40,000 stakes at six furlongs, the Angie C. for fillies on July 24 and the Emerald Express on July 30 for colts and geldings.

"That will be seven weeks between races for Courting Seattle," said Belvoir. "I would like to find another race for him, maybe at Hastings or in northern California, so he doesn't have to wait so long."

Belvoir developed Seattles Best Joe, who won stakes here and at Santa Anita as a 2-year-old last year, and he sees some of the same attributes in Courting Seattle.

"Courting Seattle is a little smaller, but he is put together like Seattles Best Joe and he has the same attitude," he said. "I think he has a chance to be a nice horse."

* Gallyn Mitchell became the first rider to win 800 races at Emerald Downs when he booted Mt. Vista to a last-to-first victory in Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong feature. Mitchell, who has ridden at Emerald since the track opened in 1996, also has the most stakes wins here with 46.