05/24/2007 12:00AM

Moores Bridge heads meet opener


Yavapai Downs, the summer retreat for Arizona racing, begins its 56-day meet Saturday at the Yavapai County fairgrounds near the town of Prescott Valley. The meet runs through Sept. 4 with racing primarily on a Saturday-through-Tuesday schedule, but there will be live racing this Wednesday. Yavapai will be dark from June 30 through July 4, while racing is conducted at nearby Flagstaff.

This will be Yavapai Downs's sixth season. The mile track, about a 1 1/2-hour drive north of Phoenix, was built to replace the aged and dilapidated Prescott Downs. The track is open seven days a week for full-card simulcasting.

The opening-day feature, the $21,000 Gerry Howard Inaugural Handicap, is for 3-year-olds and upward at six furlongs. A field of eight has been entered, headed by the multiple stakes winner Moores Bridge. A 6-year-old gelding owned by Dennis Weir and trained by Kevin Lewis, Moores Bridge won the Caballos del Sol at Turf Paradise last October and most recently was an impressive winner of the Grand Canyon Handicap there April 28. Vince Guerra rides Moores Bridge, the likely favorite.

His main challenge may come from Cat of Fifty Seven, who invades from Southern California. Trainer Chad Ferguson and owner Coal Creek Ranch claimed him out of a third-place finish at Santa Anita April 19 for $25,000. He has 3 victories in 17 starts, but also has been second 9 times. If he adapts to his new surroundings he figures to be dangerous. Alberto Higuera rides.

Neither Moores Bridge nor Cat of Fifty Seven has raced over the Yavapai strip. Instantly, however, won his career debut over the track back in July 2003. Trained by Lyman Rollins, the 7-year-old Instantly will be making his first start of the year in this spot.

Instantly hasn't run since finishing fifth in the Hang on Slewpy at Turf Paradise Nov. 28, but 5 of his 6 wins and 7 of his 8 runner-up finishes have come over the Yavapai track. He finished fifth in this race last year after a much-troubled start. Joe Durigon rides.