06/30/2003 11:00PM

'Master' seeks third straight win

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AUBURN, Wash. - The Stanislaw Ashbaugh Starter Allowance Series, designed to reward lower-level claimers with enhanced purses, will be renewed on Thursday's nine-race card. The race has attracted seven older runners, each of whom has started for $3,200 or less this year, to compete at one mile for a $7,000 purse.

Sure to be favored is the remarkable 9-year-old Market Master, who has won his two starts this year by a combined 16 3/4 lengths. Market Master, who is trained by Tim McCanna for Dunn Bar Ranch, first gained notice in 2000 when he won four straight races, including the nine- and 10-furlong legs of the track's Marathon Series for $10,000 starter allowance horses.

He took all of 2001 off with an injury and raced only twice last year. But, he returned this season and blew away $3,200 company by 11 3/4 lengths, completing six furlongs in 1:09.40 May 23. He duplicated that clocking in his most recent outing, a five-length score over $4,000 claimers June 14. The move to a mile should only help Market Master, who appears to be the primary speed in Thursday's field.

Market Master will be challenged by Air Bag, another remarkable veteran, with a career record of 16 wins from 62 starts. The 10-year-old Air Bag has won two of three starts at the meet.

A special 5 p.m. first post, one hour earlier than usual, will be in effect Thursday to accommodate the track's annual July 3 fireworks show, to take place after the races.