07/24/2003 11:00PM

Moonlight Meeting 'as good as new'

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AUBURN, Wash. - Moonlight Meeting sizzled six furlongs in 1:09.80 last Sunday at Emerald Downs in his final prep for Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race he won last year, but you would never know it from the way he galloped on Wednesday morning.

The 8-year-old Moonlight Meeting attacked his task with gusto Wednesday, straining against the hold of exercise rider Dennis Madsen and looking every inch the picture of health.

It was hard to believe this was the same horse that trainer Sharon Ross had to scratch from last month's Independence Day Handicap with a sore back.

"He has made a remarkable turnaround," Ross said. "A month ago he was very sore at the top of his hindquarters, and the muscles were swollen on both sides of his spine. Now he is as good as new."

Ross gives most of the credit for the turnaround to Dr. Randy Baze, who has been administering twice-weekly chiropractic treatments to Moonlight Meeting for the past month. Baze, the brother of jockey Gary Baze, treats human patients at his clinic in Renton, but he has occasionally worked on horses he owns in part through Vic-Tory Stable racing syndicates. Ross said she enlisted Randy Baze's help on the advice of his sister-in-law, former rider Vicky Baze, who is Gary's wife and agent.

"I was a little leery at first, and so was Moonlight Meeting," said Ross. "He really didn't want to be touched, but once he realized the treatments were giving him relief he became a model patient. You can tell he's glad to see Randy when he comes.

"He is really a changed horse. He is bucking and kicking now, and he had never done those things before."

Even if Moonlight Meeting is 100 percent healthy, there is a question about whether he is fit enough to go the 1 1/8 miles of the Mt. Rainier after being sidelined since June 15, when he ran third in the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap in his seasonal debut. It's a question that Ross dismisses.

"I have no concerns about his fitness, not with the way he is training," she said. "Besides, he is bred for the distance. It's a lot easier to get them ready when they really want to go that far, and he does."

Sabertooth, Turban look to bounce back

Kay Cooper, the daughter of and assistant to trainer Jim Penney, is looking for improved performances from Sabertooth and Turban in the Mt. Rainier. Sabertooth, the winner of last year's Grade 3 Longacres Mile, was eased after dueling through six furlongs in 1:08.40 in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap, while the favored Turban flattened out to finish fourth after making an early move into the hot pace.

"They both just went too fast, too soon in that race," said Cooper. "They both came out of the race fine, though, so we'll try them again.

"Sabertooth just hasn't been able to get the lead to himself this year, and I think he'll go a lot better if he can do that on Sunday. The distance might be beyond his best, but I think he'll go that far with the right trip.

"I don't think Turban will have any problem with the distance. The farther he goes, the better he likes it. He is best from off the pace, though, and we'll try to be a little more patient with him this time. We're still very high on him."

Skip to the Stone retires after injury

Trainer Bud Klokstad reported that Skip to the Stone has been retired to stud after he exited his third-place finish in the Independence Day Handicap with an injury. Skip to the Stone, the winner of two Grade 3 stakes as a 3-year-old in 2001, put away Sabertooth and turned back Turban before yielding grudgingly to deep closers Alfurune and Poker Brad in the Independence Day.

"I thought he ran a whale of a race, and I'm sorry to lose him," said Klokstad. "He is really a nice horse, and they'd have a tough time beating him around here if he were sound. The owner is looking for a place to stand him in California."

* A dinner and auction to benefit the backstretch day-care center and the backstretch chapel will be held Aug. 11 on the fourth floor at Emerald Downs. The silent auction will begin at 5 p.m. and dinner will be at 7, with the live auction to follow. Dinner tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the day-care center or at the Washington HBPA office.