04/21/2003 11:00PM

Meet's first juvenile test spices card


AUBURN, Wash. - An annual rite of spring will take place Thursday when Emerald Downs offers the state's first 2-year-old race of the year, a quarter-mile race that has drawn a field of nine, eight of them debut runners. It will be run as the second race on the card.

The race filled four days earlier than last meet's first 2-year-old race, yet it came none too soon for director of racing Grant Holcomb. Even with the nine-horse juvenile field, Holcomb was able to entice just 53 horses to enter Thursday's eight races, or an average of 6.6 horses per race.

Thursday's feature, which goes as the seventh race, will pit juvenile stakes winner Freedom March against five other 3-year-old fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs. All are eligible to be claimed for either $20,000 or $25,000.

Freedom March, a daughter of Free at Last from the barn of Dave Bennett, scored in her 4 1/2-furlong debut last May and came back and won the five-furlong Pierce County Stakes in June. But she then finished eighth in the six-furlong Angie C. Stakes in July and hasn't raced since. Freedom March has worked every seven days since March 10, which is a sign of a sound and healthy horse, and she will be ridden Thursday by Gary Baze, who was up for her stakes win.

Freedom March's prime rivals appear to be Sassy Little Sarah, a debut winner at the $25,000 claiming level here last season, and Scarlet Tempest, who won twice as a juvenile. Scarlet Tempest, the most experienced member of the field with seven starts, won her maiden at the $16,000 claiming level, then stepped up and beat $25,000 claiming company.