07/02/2009 11:00PM

Only traffic can stop Assessment


AUBURN, Wash. - To hear his trainer tell it, Assessment is a horse who goes looking for trouble. If it weren't for a couple of traffic mishaps, the talented 5-year-old gelding could be undefeated this year heading into the $50,000 Governor's Handicap Sunday at Emerald Downs.

The final non-restricted sprint stakes of the season for the handicap division, the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's attracted a field of six led by Assessment, who won the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap June 21 in his most recent start. Also in the field are his Howard Belvoir-trained stablemate Wasserman, who was a four-time stakes winner last summer, and Atta Boy Roy, who tied the six-furlong track record June 6 in his Emerald Downs debut.

The race presents a tricky challenge for Assessment, who does his best running from slightly off the pace. Can he keep pace with Atta Boy Roy in the early going and then hold off Wasserman late?

Assessment has won 5 of 22 starts and earned $153,480 for owners Lou and Diane Tice, but his bottom line could have been bigger. He finished fourth after a troubled trip in the $300,000 Longacres Mile last August, and has suffered two close losses in 2009. He finished second to Kruger Park in the $50,000 Seattle Handicap after being forced to alter course in midstretch, and again in the FSN Handicap after checking and losing a couple of lengths on the turn.

Wasserman has been Belvoir's stable star, but Assessment is every bit as talented, at least this year.

"I've always said Assessment was the better of the two," Belvoir said after Assessment's neck victory over Wasserman in the Budweiser Emerald Handicap. "He finally got a good trip today."

The shape of Sunday's race will be dictated by Atta Boy Roy, who zipped six furlongs in 1:07.40 while cruising to a 10-length victory in a $50,000 optional claimer a month ago. Atta Boy Roy, who is trained by Valorie Lund, earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest at Emerald Downs since 2005. With the front-running Kruger Park sitting out the Governor's, Atta Boy Roy and jockey Joe Crispin figure to control the pace, with Assessment looming close behind.

If Atta Boy Roy and Assessment go too fast early, Wasserman could be a willing beneficiary. He got up in the final strides to win the Governor's last year, and then captured the Longacres Mile six weeks later. He loves 6 1/2 furlongs, having won 4 of his 8 starts at the distance, and looks to be building toward a peak performance. Regular rider Jennifer Whitaker has the call.