06/22/2009 11:00PM

Media City fast and chalky for Emerald sprint

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AUBURN, Wash. - Four speedy contenders and two longshots are set to compete at six furlongs Thursday in the feature race at Emerald Downs, a $12,500 claimer for older horses that have never won three races. It's the seventh race on an eight-race program that begins at 6 p.m.

Media City was the wagering favorite in his two starts at the meeting and figures to be a short price Thursday. A 5-year-old trained by Howard Belvoir, he dominated a group of $12,500 nonwinners of two in his season debut in late April, leading throughout while running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03. He tried tougher opponents in his second start, finishing fifth in a $25,000 claimer after setting a pressured pace. He drops back to his winning level Thursday, and while he hasn't raced in five weeks, he has worked sharply for his return. Jennifer Whitaker has the mount.

Icy Ridge and Particle of Light could be the chief threats to Media City. Icy Ridge finished second and Particle of Light was third in a $17,500 claimer in their most recent start, when both horses were in need of racing. It was Icy Ridge's first start in more than two years, while Particle of Light was starting for the second time after a 19-month layoff.

Icy Ridge began his racing career in Ireland in 2005 and was a turf specialist in Southern California before his extended vacation. He finished fourth in the Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita in November 2006 but hasn't won in more than three years, since he rallied to take an $80,000 optional claimer at Hollywood Park in June 2006. Owned and trained by Mike Puhich, he'll be ridden by Troy Stillwell.

Particle of Light, a 6-year-old, will be making his seventh start. He won his racing debut at Turf Paradise late in his 3-year-old season and captured a first-level allowance there a year later. He returned with a sharp effort May 16, when he finished fourth for $17,500 after vying for the lead. Gallyn Mitchell has the riding assignment for trainer Kathy Schenk.

Auburn Xpress is the other top contender. A front-running 4-year-old trained by Tom Wenzel, he finished second in his most recent start after setting the pace. While he is stepping up a level Thursday, Auburn Xpress looks to be an improving horse capable of challenging Media City in the early stages. Juan Gutierrez, who directed Auburn Xpress to a victory in a $7,500 claimer in his season debut, will be up again Thursday.