08/04/2005 11:00PM

Penny youngsters talented, too


AUBURN, Wash. - The powerhouse barn of trainer Jim Penney and assistant Kay Cooper, which has dominated the handicap division at this meeting, will turn its attention to the 3-year-olds on Sunday when it sends out two promising prospects in the $60,000 Seattle Slew Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

One is Confidential Call, a long-winded son of True Confidence who has come to hand since being sent around two turns. In three recent mile races, Confidential Call has a win over $30,000 maidens, a close third to Thirsty Guy's in the Tacoma Handicap, and a strong second to divisional leader Norm's Nephew in an allowance prep for the Seattle Slew.

"He's still learning, but he is a true route horse," said Cooper. "I really think he is going to be better the farther he goes. I'm not even sure 1 1/16 will be far enough for him, but the extra sixteenth has to help. I know he'll be closing late."

The Penney barn's other Seattle Slew starter, Be a Halo, will be making his Emerald Downs and route debut after being claimed on June 18 at Arlington Park by owner Paul Heist. The same connections claimed Flamethrowintexan and won last year's Seattle Slew with him. Flamethrowintexan was also making his route debut, so comparisons between Be a Halo and Flamethrowintexan are inevitable. Cooper said such comparisons are unfair.

"Of course we hope he turns out as well as Tex, but that's asking a lot," she said. "Tex is one of a kind. Be a Halo is just a nice front-running sprinter so far. We've been trying to stretch him out, just like we did with Tex, but we won't know how successful we've been until he runs. He's making progress, though. He worked a really good six furlongs last Sunday and galloped out strong, so we're hopeful. I'd have to think he'll be on the lead, and we'll just have to see how far he can go."

Norm's Nephew faces challenge

Be a Halo's presence spells potential trouble for likely favorite Norm's Nephew, whose four wins at this meeting all came from on or very close to the pace. His lone defeat came when he finished fourth after racing behind horses in the Tacoma Handicap. Trainer Jimmy Orr said he is not convinced that Norm's Nephew needs the lead to succeed, however.

"It wasn't just that he was behind horses in the Tacoma," said Orr. "It was also that he was trapped down on the rail and having to check off horses' heels most of the way. That would have been a tough trip for any horses. I won't really be that concerned if he gets outrun for the lead this time, especially if he is in the clear. Anyway, I'm not going to worry about it. I'm basically going to leave the strategy to the rider."

That will be leading rider Kevin Krigger, who rode Norm's Nephew for the first time in a one-mile allowance prep, which he won by a neck over Confidential Call on July 22.

"I asked Kevin if he had a plan and he said he did, so I told him to go for it," said Orr, recalling his conversation with Krigger in the paddock. "Kevin rode him perfectly that day and he knows the horse better now, so I've got a lot of confidence in him. Of course Norm's Nephew will have to go farther this time and there is a question of whether he can do it - every horse has his limit - but I think he can."

Wasserman tries something new

The big field for the Seattle Slew will include Monmouth Park shipper Alexandersrun, California imports King Mobay and Fuzzyheadedlizard, and Hastings Park invader Timeless Passion. The real sleeper, however, might be the lightly raced local Wasserman.

Wasserman, a strapping son of Cahill Road, has won 2 of 3 races, all sprints, and trainer Howard Belvoir feels he will improve with distance.

"He is a big, long-striding horse, and he has a lot of natural stamina," said Belvoir. "The timing didn't work out for him to have a mile prep for this race, but I put three long workouts into him and I think he's ready. Now we'll see if he's good enough."

Where did all the jockeys go?

The local jockey colony is somewhat depleted this weekend. Gary Baze is out indefinitely with pulled muscles in his back, the result of a spill last Friday. Mick Ruis has departed for Del Mar, and Leslie Mawing is in his native South Africa to visit his ailing grandmother.

Kevin Radke, the track's leading rider in 2002 and 2003, was expected to return soon from a lingering wrist injury, but agent Boone McCanna said that won't happen.

"He's out," said McCanna. "He galloped horses for a few days, but the wrist just didn't hold up. He couldn't grip the reins properly. I don't expect him back at this meeting."

Remarkably, however, Ricky Frazier will ride this weekend despite being struck in the face by a trailing horse when his mount fell after the fourth race last Sunday. Frazier lost two teeth and a permanent bridge, broke his cheekbone and suffered several facial cuts. Nonetheless, he was out galloping horses on Wednesday and only missed riding on Thursday because he was still awaiting the construction of a special plexiglass face mask, like that worn by Seattle Storm star Sue Bird, to protect his cheekbone.