09/10/2002 12:00AM

Patience pays with Top Bracket

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AUBURN, Wash. - Asked when he knew when he would win Sunday's Belle Roberts Handicap with Top Bracket, rider Gallyn Mitchell had a ready answer.

"When the overnight came out on Friday," he said.

Jockeys should have that kind of confidence. Few handicappers who weighed the probable pace scenario for the 1 1/8-mile Belle Roberts at Emerald Downs could share it, however. The tiny field of five included just one horse with early speed, the very tractable Graceful Cat, and Top Bracket has just one way of going.

"Her race is from the quarter pole to the wire," said trainer Bill Tollett. "If you use her even a little before she gets to the quarter pole, she won't finish. It's very hard for riders to be as patient as they need to be on her. They get so far behind and they start thinking they'll never be able to catch up, so they let her creep up or they ask her early. Very few riders can just sit there and watch the leaders get farther and farther away."

Mitchell can do it. He did it when he brought Top Bracket from last at the quarter pole to first at the wire in the 1 1/16 mile-Boeing Handicap in July, and he did it again on Sunday. Mitchell sat chilly as Top Bracket fell 14 lengths behind after a quarter in 23.40 seconds, and he remained patient while the deficit became 17 1/2 lengths after a half in 47 seconds.

It helped, no doubt, that the pace was far more contested than expected. The connections of Latter Day Paula and Sister Adiba, apparently concerned that Graceful Cat would steal the race, were both sent hard from the gate.

Those two ended up dueling for the early lead, with Graceful Cat assuming a stalking position on the outside. Graceful Cat, the 3-5 favorite, moved to take the lead from a stubborn Latter Day Paula at the head of the stretch and those two battled to the wire, but their efforts were for naught as Top Bracket blew by them in the final 100 yards to register a 1 1/4-length score in 1:49.20. Top Bracket smoked the final three furlongs in 35.60 while making up 13 1/2 lengths on the leaders.

"She is pretty amazing when things go her way," said Tollett. "She does need some luck, though. She lost an eye last winter in Phoenix, so she always has to circle horses and that can be an obstacle in a big field. She needs a route of ground, and there has to be some kind of pace to shoot at, plus she needs a track she can close on. She hates the turf, and I don't think she would handle mud. Then, of course, she has to be ridden just right. She does have a lot of talent, though, and when everything clicks she can put on quite a show."

Top of the heaps

With just two stakes remaining, most of the divisional titles for the Emerald meeting have been decided. Calldara is the meet's best 2-year-old filly after winning two stakes, including the Barbara Shinpoch, while four-time stakes winner Lasting Code clearly tops the 3-year-old filly ranks. Nobody would deny Flying Notes the 3-year-old colt or gelding honors after his amazing performance in the Emerald Derby, and Colterkind is a lock for claimer of the meeting after moving from the $12,500 claiming ranks to win the Governor's Handicap in four giant steps. There is more room for argument concerning who will be named top sprinter, but perhaps the top contender is Crowning Meeting, who equaled one track record and set another in two sprint tries.

Yet to be decided are the awards for older horse and Washington-bred - Longacres Mile hero Sabertooth can probably nail it down with an impressive win the Washington Championship on closing day - and top 2-year-old colt or gelding, which will come down to the sixth showdown between Bub and Knightsbridge Road in Sunday's Gottstein Futurity.

It may come down to the final two stakes before Horse of the Meeting is decided, but Flying Notes has a big shot off his record of five wins - three in stakes, including the near-world record in the Emerald Derby.

Flying Notes's Beyer Speed Figure for his Emerald Derby race wasn't as high as one might have thought. Flying Notes was given a 106, just one point higher than Salt Grinder received when he won the Washington Owners Handicap in August. While Salt Grinder ran extremely well that day, those who saw both races would say Flying Notes's derby effort was in another category altogether.

* Jockey Kevin Radke and trainer Tim McCanna enter the final five days of racing with a shot to establish new win records at Emerald. With 137 wins, Radke needs 12 more to snap Vann Belvoir's 1996 record of 148. McCanna, who has already wrapped up his fourth training title in Emerald's seven meets, needs five more wins to break his own record of 55 set in 2000.

* Third-leading rider Ben Russell will miss the rest of the Emerald meet after fracturing at least two ribs in a spill last Friday. Russell also suffered a laceration on his forehead when his mount in the second race, Always Bluffing, broke down and fell in the stretch.