06/29/2001 12:00AM

Overachiever tries for stakes win


AUBURN, Wash. - Duke's Tune has already proven to be a considerable bargain for trainer Dave Bennett and the other dozen or so individuals who make up Duke's Tune Syndicate, which owns the gelding. The group purchased Duke's Tune, a son of Jazzing Around and Anna Mia, by Staff Writer, for just $3,000 at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association's summer yearling sale in 1999. After having defeated $32,000 company at Emerald Downs June 21 for his third straight win, Duke's Tune has earned more than $35,000 from four wins in 11 starts.

He could earn a lot more on Sunday, when he takes on divisional leader Jumron Won in the $45,000 Seattle Slew Handicap for 3-year-olds at a mile. Bennett isn't expecting Duke's Tune to win Sunday in his stakes debut, but he noted that the Washington-bred has exceeded his expectations before.

"He has been a pleasant surprise since the day we bought him," said Bennett. "He is actually a very well-bred horse, but we were able to buy him cheaply because of his looks. At that time, he looked like a stick-figure horse. He was tall and thin. We nicknamed him 'Skeeter' because he was like a mosquito - all legs and hardly any body."

Duke's Tune won once in six starts at 2, winning his maiden for a $10,000 tag at Emerald Downs in September.

"I thought it would take him a long time to mature and fill out," Bennett said. "I really didn't expect to get him started at 2, let alone win with him, so that was a bonus."

After his maiden victory, Duke's Tune was shipped to Southern California for a three-race fall campaign. He finished fifth against $32,000 claimers going six furlongs at Fairplex, fourth against allowance runners in a 5 1/2-furlong dash at Santa Anita, then fifth and last in Santa Anita's Pinjara Stakes at a mile on the turf.

"Those races don't look like much on paper, but I thought he ran very well," said Bennett. "In the Fairplex race he blew the first turn and was last by many, but he finished like a shot and was only beaten four lengths. That race showed us how he wanted to run, so since then we have taken him off the pace.

"He ran well to get fourth in his first race at Santa Anita, then I think I was premature to run him in the stakes. He wasn't ready to meet horses like Startac, who ran in the Kentucky Derby. Even so, he didn't disgrace himself and he learned something. I think those California races laid the foundation for what he has done this year."

After running second against $25,000 company at 5 1/2 furlongs in his 3-year-old bow, Duke's Tune won for $25,000 at six furlongs, then notched back-to-back wins over $32,000 rivals at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Bennett thinks Duke's Tune is ready to stretch out to a mile in the Seattle Slew.

"Everything about him says distance," he said. "His pedigree, his looks, and his running style are all geared toward routing. I know he wants to go long. I just don't know if he wants to go long against Jumron Won.

"All I really expect from him in this race is to fall back and come running at the end. If he wins, that will be great. I'm not going to be disappointed if he doesn't win, though. I'm proud of what he has done already."

* Emerald Downs will showcase distance specialists in a series of three $10,400 races to be called the Tour de Course Marathon Championship. The three races are each for $10,000 starter allowance horses. The first leg of the series will be run at 1 1/8 miles on July 20, the second at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 3, and the final leg at 1 1/2 miles on Aug. 17.

* There will be a hearing conducted by the Washington Horse Racing Commission on Monday at 10 a.m. in Auburn City Hall. Matters to be discussed include alleged violations of the conditions of Playfair's license, the financial condition of the track's operating company, and the track's request to amend its 2001 racing dates.