07/05/2005 12:00AM

Mile picture gets interesting

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Emerald Downs
Poker Brad, winner of the Independence Day Handicap, will try for a third straight victory in the Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup on July 31.

AUBURN, Wash. - The competition for top handicap horse at Emerald Downs and best local hope for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile extends beyond the powerhouse barn of trainer Jim Penney.

Mr. Makaw suggested as much when he upset Penney's heavily favored Sabertooth in the June 19 Budweiser Emerald Handicap at a mile, and Poker Brad underscored the point on Sunday when he beat Penney's richly talented Flamethrowintexan in a thrilling edition of the Independence Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

Poker Brad, 7, rebounded from a pair of fourth-place finishes to beat the 1-2 Flamethrowintexan on the square. He probably couldn't have pulled the feat off if he hadn't gotten a perfectly judged ride from Kevin Krigger, however.

Krigger kept Poker Brad within a length of the front-running Flamethrowintexan and rider Ricky Frazier through six furlongs in 1:10.40, and in doing so applied just enough pressure to allow him to wear down the favorite in the final strides and prevail by a neck in 1:41. Mr. Makah closed for third, 2 3/4 lengths farther back in the field of four.

"I knew if Ricky got off by himself he would be hard to catch in the stretch, so I had to put pressure on him all the way," said Krigger.

It's not easy to apply the heat to a horse as fast as Flamethrowintexan while retaining enough for the finish, though, and for that Poker Brad and trainer Tim McCanna deserve credit. Poker Brad, who exceeded $400,000 in career earnings with his win on Sunday, produced one of the very best efforts of his stellar career.

"I always thought if he made it to this point and he was still healthy, he would be better than ever," said McCanna. "I thought maybe he would be a race away from his best effort today, though. I thought I went at him too hard last year and he peaked early, so I've backed off on him this year. The plan is to have him at his peak for the next two."

The next two races for Poker Brad will be the $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup at nine furlongs on July 31, a race he has won in each of the last two years, and the $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 21.

The Mile is the toughest race to win in the Northwest, but Poker Brad was second to Sky Jack in the 2003 race and McCanna said he feels he has the quality to win it.

"He's the designated franchise player in my barn," said the trainer. "His kind don't come along very often, and he has meant a lot to me. He has done more than put braces on my kids."

The comment about braces was in reference to something McCanna said earlier about Pool Boy, a stakes-quality sprinter who was entered for a $20,000 claiming price on Friday. The parachute drop in class froze rival trainers, who declined to drop claim slips but wished they had after Pool Boy won laughing in 1:08.40 for six furlongs.

"There were no other races for him, and one of my kids just got braces," said McCanna by way of explanation. "I was cheating."

Karis Makaw gets job done

Karis Makaw won the second stakes on Sunday's card, the one-mile King County Handicap for fillies and mares, pretty much as expected at 3-2. Her three-quarter-length victory over Ruby Dawn in an ordinary 1:36.20 might not have been as impressive as some had expected, but rider Ricky Frazier said the score was easier than it looked.

"She got to waiting on horses down the stretch, but when she saw Ruby Dawn coming back at us she dug in again," he said.

As for trainer Bob Meeking, he was just happy that Karis Makaw was able to secure her initial stakes win.

"There are no bad wins as far as I'm concerned," said Meeking. "I think she is still acting a little green, but I think she is going to be a really nice horse before she is through."

Meeking purchased Karis Makaw, a 4-year-old daughter of Charismatic, for owner Evelyn Filler at the 2002 Keeneland September sale for $16,000.

"Evelyn picked her out off her pedigree, and when we went to see her I thought she looked a little small, but racy," Meeking recalled. "Evelyn said she was going to try to buy her for $16,000, and I didn't like her chances because her sire's stud fee was $30,000, but darned if she didn't get her. I guess all the sheikhs had gone home by then."

Meeking said Karis Makaw, who has now won 4 of 9 starts for slightly more than $80,000 in earnings, will go next in the $40,000 Boeing Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on July 30.

Big jump in handle

The massive crowd of more than 20,000 that turned out to watch Sunday's fireworks spectacular apparently came to bet as well. Wagering totaled $1,964,522, an increase of more than 32 percent over the same day last year. One reason might have been that 80 horses contested Sunday's nine races. On July 3 last year, only 54 horses contested the same number of races.

The average daily handle from all sources at this meeting continues to run more than 20 percent ahead of last year's average of $1,228,940.