05/05/2005 11:00PM

Marva Jean set to cut loose again. Or is she?


AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Frank Lucarelli spent much of last year teaching Marva Jean to come from off the pace, and his efforts were by no means in vain.

Marva Jean came within a head of winning last season's Washington State Legislators Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, and she ran third in two other stakes. In the final analysis, however, Marva Jean was winless in nine starts during her 4-year-old campaign, and Lucarelli was not satisfied with that result.

For her 5-year-old debut in a 5 1/2- furlong allowance race on April 16 at Emerald Downs, Lucarelli decided to have rider Mick Ruis cut Marva Jean loose. She went to the front with an initial quarter-mile in 21.40 seconds, increased her lead to two lengths with a half-mile in 44.20, and drew out through the stretch to win by five lengths over the favored Ruby Dawn in 1:02.40, earning a career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

"She ran fourth in that same allowance race last year, and she fought the rider the whole way," said Lucarelli. "I just didn't want to do that again, so I let her have her way. She always wants to go, so I let her."

Lucarelli was happy with the result, but he is not sure what the ramifications of his decision might be in Sunday's $40,000 Hastings Park Handicap at Emerald, a six-furlong sprint.

"There is a lot of speed in this race and I would just as soon have her sit off the leaders, but I'm not sure I have that option anymore," he said. "Once you give her her head, she is pretty hard to deal with for her next couple of races. I might tell the rider to bring her from off the pace, but it all depends on how cooperative she wants to be. I'm really not sure how she will react."

Tactics aside, Lucarelli could scarcely be more pleased with the way Marva Jean is doing.

"She is fully mature now, and she is still sound," he said. "She was just a couple of noses away from having a big year last year, and I think she could be a little better now. If she can win a couple of those photos she lost last year, we could have a lot of fun with her."

Only Oralee steps up

The new shooter in the Hastings Park is Only Oralee, a 4-year-old who burst on the scene with a commanding four-length allowance win here on April 24. That was just the second career start for Only Oralee, who defeated maiden special weight rivals by nearly seven lengths in her only outing last year, but owner and trainer, Dr. Charles Barth, feels she is ready to try stakes company.

"She acts like a good horse," said Barth, who trained Aunt Sophie to a divisional championship here last season. "She does everything very easily, and she has that killer instinct."

Barth bred Only Oralee himself from the Knights Choice matron Mystery Knight, whom he bought for only $1,400 at the WTBA winter mixed sale in 1999.

"I really lucked out," said Barth. "Mystery Night was from a terrific family, and she sold for $52,000 as a yearling. She was 11 when I bought her, though, and her best foals hadn't made a name for themselves yet. She was also open and she was lame behind, so there wasn't much interest in her."

Mystery Night's two prior foals were Deb's Royal Flush, a stakes-placed winner of $143,770, and Slew of the Night, a stakes winner of $181,438. Slew of the Night had blazing speed, and Only Oralee takes after him. As a result, Barth feels he has no tactical decisions to make in the Hastings Park.

"She'll go to the front," he said. "I'm not inclined to change her style now. I know there is a bunch of speed in this race, but it looked like there was a lot of speed in her last one, too, and it didn't seem to bother her."

Torrid pace would benefit Top Penny

Talk of a plethora of speed in the Hastings Park is music to trainer Doug Driever's ears. Driever will send out Top Penny, who came from seventh to win a 5 1/2-furlong stakes at Turf Paradise in her last outing on April 3.

"That was the way I have always wanted her to run, but somehow she always seemed to end up on the lead last year," said Driever. "She won a stakes at Turf Paradise as a 3-year-old from off the pace, and I really think that is her best style."

The 5-year-old Top Penny also placed in four stakes at Emerald as a 3-year-old, but her campaign ended with a knee injury and she mostly avoided stakes company last year, winning a pair of allowance events.

"I was taking it easy on her last year because she was coming off the injury, but she is 100 percent now," said Driever. "She is bigger and stronger than ever, so I'm looking for her to be really tough."