07/28/2003 11:00PM

Poker Brad held all the cards

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Tim McCanna's paddock instructions to Ben Russell, who was about to ride Poker Brad in Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap, were simplicity itself.

"Go get the money," he said. "We both need it."

Russell did as he was told, collecting the $55,000 winner's prize with a deft ride that brought Poker Brad to the wire 3 1/2 lengths clear of defending champion Moonlight Meeting in 1:46.80 for the 1 1/8 miles.

Last year's Longacres Mile winner, Sabertooth, went to the front as expected, but when leading rider Kevin Radke took a firm hold on him in an attempt to save energy for the stretch run, Russell eased Poker Brad up to sit just off his hip and just outside Moonlight Meeting, who was trapped on the rail. Those three remained locked in that position into the stretch, when Poker Brad kicked away to score with authority.

"Ben rode a great race," said Gary Baze, who rode Moonlight Meeting. "He had us stuck on the rail and we couldn't get out until it was too late."

Poker Brad won the Portland Meadows Mile earlier this year and was coming off a second-place finish to Alfurune in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day Handicap. With his victory on Sunday, Poker Brad, a 5-year-old son of Go for Gin, earned a berth in the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 24.

"I've never started one in the Mile before," said McCanna, who has won four of the seven training titles decided at Emerald Downs. "This is a horse who is peaking at the right time, so we'll take a shot at it this year."

McCanna purchased Poker Brad for $13,000 at Keeneland as a yearling for Quadrun Farm LLC, an ownership group that includes the trainer, Jack Pring, Brad Pring, John Peterson, Mitch Pierce, and former NFL great John Elway.

"These guys owned car dealerships for the same company at one time, so that's their connection," said McCanna. "Elway has only been in the group for a year and a half, and I think he has only seen one of our horses run, in California. Maybe he'll take more interest now."

Alfurune proves his toughness

One of the questions answered by the Mt. Rainier was whether Alfurune's upset win in the Independence Day Handicap was an aberration attributable to the very fast pace of that race.

It wasn't.

Alfurune took all the worst of it on Sunday, going wide around both turns while racing well off a slow pace, yet he closed resolutely to be beaten just a neck for second by Moonlight Meeting.

Off that effort, Alfurune must be considered a legitimate threat in the Longacres Mile.

Kent 'Cap no trouble for Youcan'ttakeme

Saturday's $40,000 Kent Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles was supposed to test divisional leader Youcan'ttakeme, who had won the 6 1/2-furlong Federal Way Handicap and the one-mile Son of Briartic Stakes by wide margins. She had missed the June 29 Irish Day Handicap and nearly a month of training with a minor injury, however, and she had to concede weight on Saturday to a stellar field that included the undefeated Cascade Corona, Irish Day Handicap winner Brave Miss, and Bay Meadows stakes winner Mavoreen.

None of that mattered in the least, as Youcan'ttakeme took the lead at the start under Baze and widened her margin at every call, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over longshot Here's Carrie in 1:41.20.

"I was a little nervous because of the layoff and the distance, but she is a remarkable filly," said trainer Grant Forster. "I thought this race would be her biggest challenge, but she made it look easy. It's a pleasure to be able to train one like her."

Youcan'ttakeme, a daughter of He's Tops, races for breeder Herman Sarkowsky, who stands her sire at Jerry and Peggy Woods's Woodstead Farm in Chehalis, Wash. Youcan'ttakeme is from the second crop of He's Tops, a Seattle Slew stallion who had four of his progeny win at Emerald on Saturday.

Besides Youcan'ttakeme ($4.20), He's Tops sired second-race winner Two Tops ($5.40), sixth-race winner Millenium Nugget ($43), and eighth-race winner Too Fast to Top ($13.40). A $2 He's Tops win parlay on Sunday would have returned more than $1,500.

* Lindy Aliment, who served as clerk of scales at Longacres and Emerald Downs for more than 45 years, retired after Sunday's racing at the age of 75. A native of Renton, Aliment taught school for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1982, but he continued to work at the track. In 1996, he lent his name to the Lindy Award, which annually honors the Emerald Downs rider who best exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, community service, and contributions to racing.