07/06/2006 11:00PM

Moreno's a smart shopper

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AUBURN, Wash. - Carlos Moreno has been training at Emerald Downs since the track opened in 1996, but he doesn't fault those who failed to note his presence.

"I only had a few horses that I bred myself, and I didn't get many starts out of them," he said. "They were out of a couple of long-distance mares, and they really weren't suited for the racing here."

Moreno finally gave his mares away and started claiming horses, and has since taken a much higher profile. He claimed McAllister Creek last October at Portland Meadows, and won four races with that horse before losing him in February. Then in November, Moreno claimed Forty Durango, who has since won 5 of 10 starts.

Moreno has continued his buying spree at this meeting, claiming five horses. His most expensive purchases were Call Columbo, whom he took for $20,000 in April, and Andrea's Wish, whom he claimed for $32,000 in May. Call Columbo has since raced three times, posting two seconds and a win over $25,000 optional claimers. Andrea's Wish has raced once, defeating $25,000 optional claimers by an easy 3 1/2 lengths in 1:36.80 for a mile.

Andrea's Wish, a 4-year-old daughter of Cape Town, will make her second start for Moreno in Sunday's $40,000 King County Handicap at a mile.

"I had this race in mind when I claimed her," Moreno said. "I was looking for a router with the potential to improve, and I thought she might be ready to begin an upward form cycle. She ran really well in her first start for me, and I think she is better now. She looks awesome, and she worked an effortless half-mile in 47 last Sunday. I think she deserves a shot."

If Moreno has been successful in recognizing good athletes to claim, it might be because he was an exceptional athlete himself. He boxed in his native Mexico as a super featherweight.

Moreno, 52, quit fighting in the early 70's and became a U.S. citizen, and earned a degree in engineering at the University of Alaska. He now owns an environmental business which contracts with the Department of Defense to do work at U.S. ports. But he finds time to come to the track to train every morning.

"I'm busier now because I have more horses, but I really enjoy it," he said. "My other job is my work. This is my fun."

A Classic Life horse for the course

The last time the stakes fillies and mares got together, last month in the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Handicap, A Classic Life prevailed by a scant nose over Queenledo, with Karis Makaw a close third. There obviously isn't much difference among those three, but A Classic Life's camp feels that she has a fighting chance to repeat in Sunday's King County Handicap at one mile.

"Our ace in the hole is that A Classic Life is a natural router," said Blaine Wright, assistant to trainer Grant Forster. "Last time we would have been happy for her just to run a good race, but she got her nose in front and that was a bonus. This time we're expecting more because she is getting her distance, and hopefully she will come through for us again. She is a special filly."

A Classic Life is especially special at Emerald Downs, where she has won 6 of 7 starts.

"Her record at Emerald is unreal," said Wright. "I know part of it has to do with the level of competition, because she was meeting graded stakes winners when she raced at other tracks. She really does seem to like it here, though. At the same time, she isn't unbeatable here. The top fillies in this division are so close that it will probably come down to who gets the best trip."

Mile ideal for Karis Makaw

Karis Makaw won last year's King County, then came back to score again in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap. This year, she has run second in the six-furlong Hastings Park Handicap and third in the Washington State Legislators, and trainer Bob Meeking is hoping for an even better showing on Sunday.

"I hope it is her turn to win," said Meeking. "She was right there at the finish in her last two, and I think she is better at a mile. She isn't the only one who improves with distance, but I think maybe she improves more with distance than any of the others, or at least I hope so."

Meeking said Karis Makaw, a 5-year-old daughter of Charismatic, is coming into the King County in the best shape of her career.

"She is all dappled out now, and she is carrying more flesh than she has ever carried," he said. "It is almost too good to be true."