07/19/2001 11:00PM

Playfair loses operating license

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AUBURN, Wash. - The Washington Horse Racing Commission effectively shut down operations at Playfair on Wednesday when it denied a petition to allow the Spokane track to continue simulcasting through the end of this year.

The WHRC's decision, which was issued after the commissioners deliberated via conference call on Wednesday afternoon, allowed its original order of July 5 to stand. That order stipulated that the track's license to operate would be revoked unless certain conditions, including the filing of proof that the track's operator had secured $300,000 in new capital, were met by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Since those conditions were not met by the deadline, Playfair's license was revoked as of Thursday, July 19.

The demise of Playfair stemmed from a disastrous 2000 season that saw the track's new operator, Lilac City Racing Association, lose roughly $850,000 while violating several of the conditions of its license. It followed the closure of Yakima Meadows in 1998 and left Emerald Downs as Washington's only major racetrack.

In a press release accompanying this latest order, the commission members expressed regret at the reduction of racing opportunities in the state. However, the commission concluded that Playfair's petition to be allowed to continue simulcasting contained no new facts or circumstances to persuade the commission to stay its original order.

Bruce Batson, the commission's executive secretary, said several matters relating to money in Playfair's purse account and in accounts for Washington-bred breeders and owners bonuses remain to be settled. He said the comission's contract auditor, Pat Crowley, will determine how much remains in those accounts, then the commission will discuss what should be done with the money at its next scheduled meeting on Aug. 7.

Praying for sunshine

Doris Harwood, the trainer of Star of Elttaes, said she will be doing a "sun dance" in preparation for Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Tacoma Handicap at Emerald Downs.

"If there is a rain dance, there must be a sun dance," she said. "My horse just can't handle a wet track at all, yet every time I run him against the good horses it rains."

Harwood remains convinced that Star of Elttaes, a son of Star de Naskra who began his year with a sharp allowance win at 5 1/2 furlongs, will be a better horse around two turns. In both of his route attempts, however, Star of Elttaes failed to fire while racing over wet tracks.

"I just want him to have a chance to show what he can do over a fast track," said Harwood. "Then I'll know what to do with him in the future."

Star of Elttaes is one of eight or nine 3-year-olds who will attempt to upset divisional leader Jumron Won in the Tacoma. The list includes at least two newcomers to the local stakes ranks, Sabertooth and Poker Brad.

Sabertooth has been brilliant sprinting, winning three of his four starts by big margins and in fast times. A son of Petersburg, Sabertooth will pose a strong threat to Jumron Won if he can carry his speed around two turns, but can he do that? Bryson Cooper, who exercises Sabertooth for his wife, assistant trainer Kay Cooper, feels confident that he can.

"I two-minute-licked him a mile last Sunday, and he went every eighth faster than the one before," said Bryson Cooper. "He ran the last quarter in 24 seconds flat, and he was going so strong at the end that I galloped him all the way out to the quarter pole. He did that without taking a deep breath, so I feel sure he'll be able to handle 1 1/16 miles."

Poker Brad has proven himself adept at the route game, winning his maiden at a mile on June 17 and then coming back to defeat allowance rivals on July 8 with a mile in a brisk 1:36.60. Trained by Tim McCanna, Poker Brad, a son of Go for Gin, will be making his stakes debut in just his fourth career start.

"It's asking a lot of him," said assistant trainer Mark Rheinford. "But he was very impressive in his last race and he is improving rapidly. He is a big, massive horse with the pedigree to get better the farther he goes, and we feel he has a shot to win on this level."