08/25/2009 11:00PM

Newcomer promising for Spooners


AUBURN, Wash. - Owners Sue and Tim Spooner got a big thrill on Longacres Mile weekend when their Greenback Forest won her racing debut. A well-bred 2-year-old filly, Greenback Forest set a pressured pace and held off a strong closing bid to win by a head, running six furlongs in 1:10.40.

Though her Beyer Speed Figure of 48 was nothing special - division leader Knight Raider has topped 70 three times this summer - Greenback Forest acted like a horse with a future, gliding to the lead and then finishing gamely to deny Patience Rewarded, another promising runner owned by the president of Emerald Downs, Ron Crockett. Ricky Frazier, Emerald's leading rider, was up for the Greenback Forest's unveiling.

"She was one work shy of really being ready," said trainer Dan Markle, who has been working with Greenback Forest since this spring, when the Spooners purchased her privately, sight unseen, from a Texas horseman looking to downsize.

"We got a call from an agent whose client had a bunch of horses to sell," Sue Spooner said. "But this was the only one we were really interested in. We had four 2-year-olds already, we didn't need another one, but we looked at the family and said let's do this."

By Forestry from the Cryptoclearance mare Currency Quest, Greenback Forest is a half-sister to Elloluv, who won the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet at 2 and finished second behind Adoration in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff at 3, earning $1.29 million in a 16-race career.

Though they declined to reveal the purchase price, it's likely the Spooners would be thrilled if Greenback Forest were a mere shadow of her celebrated sibling. In 14 seasons at Emerald Downs, the couple's 634 starters have won 116 races and earned $1,198,758 - less than Elloluv by her lonesome.

While the Spooners occasionally send horses to California, Emerald Downs is their home away from home. Owners of a strawberry farm in Olympia, Wash., they have a box near the finish line, and their silks, red and white with a giant strawberry on the back, are part of the landscape.

"We love to run here," Sue Spooner said. "It's the camaraderie of being with friends, visiting in the paddock, all of that. This is where we want to be."

Olympia is about 35 miles from Emerald Downs and fewer than 45 miles from the shuttered site of Longacres, where the Spooners paid $300 for their first horse, Natoric, 27 years ago. He's now a 32-year-old pensioner living on a friend's spread in New Mexico. Their first stakes victory came in 2002, when April Surprise captured the Chinook Pass Owners' Handicap. Their best horse? Halonator, the 2005 claimer of the meeting, who capped an eight-win season with a victory in the $50,000 Belle Roberts stakes for fillies and mares.

The Spooners had a long alliance with Markle, who likes to put his 2-year-olds into training but often waits until they're 3 before sending them to the races. Greenback Forest was a rare exception.

"Dan's been training for us for about 15 years," Sue Spooner said. "He's a good horseman, he has a lot of patience. Sometimes we kid him and say he has too much patience. But this one acts like an older horse.'

Assessment pointed for BC Dirt Mile

Assessment, winner of the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 16, will be pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, trainer Howard Belvoir confirmed over the weekend. Assessment qualified for an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup race with his Longacres Mile victory, and owners Lou and Diane Tice of Seattle were eager to accept.

"He came out of the race great, better than he has all year," Belvoir said of Assessment, who defeated 2-1 favorite Awesome Gem by three-quarters of a length in 1:33.40. Gallyn Mitchell, Assessment's regular rider, will accompany the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred to Santa Anita for the Nov. 7 race.

Ineligible to run in the season-ending Washington Cup races at Emerald Downs, Assessment could run next in the Grade 1, $350,000 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 10, Belvoir said. The field for the nine-furlong Goodwood is expected to include this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird. The race would be Assessment's first on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface. He was winless in three starts last fall on Golden Gate's synthetic Tapeta.

Assessment earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 94 for his Longacres Mile victory. Well Armed recorded a 105 Beyer in winning the 2008 Goodwood, and Albertus Maximus earned a 102 Beyer for his victory in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.