08/20/2001 11:00PM

Pace certainly made this race


AUBURN, Wash. - Iggy Puglisi won Sunday's $250,000 Longacres Mile aboard Irisheyesareflying, but it was Hector Ventura Jr., who finished second aboard Handy N Bold, who shaped the race.

Ventura did what few imagined could be done. He slowed sprint star Handy N Bold, who has six times shaded 44 seconds for a half-mile and once shaded 43, to lead through a quarter in 23.80 seconds and a half in 47.40. How slow was that half-mile fraction? It equaled the slowest half in the 66-year history of the Mile, which was recorded over a "slow" track in 1960. It was, in fact, the very same half-mile fraction hung up by $6,250 maiden claimers going a mile in the day's nightcap.

Puglisi did his part to keep the pace leisurely, letting Irisheyesare-flying move to within a head of the pacesetter, but never asking him to take the lead. Having arrived at the half-mile pole as fresh as a pair of daisies, the two speed horses threw in a third quarter in 23.60 to prevent their pursuers from gaining a striking position, and from that point the Mile was a two-horse race.

Irisheyesareflying and Handy N Bold dueled nose and nose to the eighth pole, then Irisheyesareflying drew away to score by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:35.40, an entirely respectable final clocking. Handy N Bold held second from Makors Mark, who raced in third position throughout, and the favored Mike K got up for fourth after racing ninth early.

"The whole plan was just to back up the pace as much as we could," said Ventura. "He had a lot left when I asked him to run, and he kicked on gamely, but the other horse was just too good."

Irisheyesareflying got good after trainer John Dolan and partners Lloyd Graham and Alice Taylor claimed him for $50,000 in May of last year. It was the second time around for Dolan, who had claimed the colt for $40,000 earlier in the year, only to lose him for the same price.

"I knew he was sound and healthy, and I thought he had a lot of potential," said Dolan.

Irisheyesareflying began running to his potential last winter, winning a pair of high-priced optional claiming races at Santa Anita before running fourth to Tiznow, Wooden Phone, and Tribunal in the Santa Anita Handicap.

"Three of the best horses in the country beat him, but he beat eight others," said Graham, a stockbroker who began campaigning horses four years ago after a chance encounter with Dolan's father at a car wash.

Irisheyesareflying subsequently ran second in both the Grade 2 San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita and the Grade 3 All American Handicap at Bay Meadows, but he had not won a stakes until Sunday. He still might not have his stakes victory, let alone the Mile's $137,500 winner's prize, if it weren't for Dolan's wife, Cathy, who grew up near Tacoma.

"My brother still lives in Renton, and on opening day he asked me if we had something to run in the Mile this year," she recalled. "I told my husband we ought to run Irisheyesareflying, and I kept bugging him about it all summer."

The trip ended up costing Irisheyesareflying's owners $16,400, because there were no other Southern California shippers to share the cost of a chartered plane, but nobody was complaining in the winner's circle.

* The handle for the 11-race card on Mile Day was $2,317,181, which ranks as the third-highest handle in Emerald's six-year history.

* Graceful Cat, who won Saturday's $100,000 Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks, will get two or three weeks rest at her owners' Savario Farm, then ship to Craig Dollase's barn in Southern California for a fall campaign.

* Fleet Pacific captured her ninth Emerald Downs stakes on Sunday when she won the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff, moving into a tie with Handy N Bold and Ropersandwranglers for most stakes wins at the track. She will likely race once more, in the Belle Roberts Handicap, before being retired to the breeding shed.

* Scott Saito, one of the leading riders at Ohio's Thistledown, will ride at Emerald on Thursday and Friday. All of Saito's earnings, plus his agent's and valet's shares, will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

* Apprentice Baltazar Contreras, who won seven races at Emerald, departed after Sunday's racing to ride at Fairplex Park in Pomona, California.

* Wayne Damron, Emerald's track superintendent, reported that the racing surface was rototilled to a depth of five inches on Sunday night.