05/05/2006 12:00AM

Ragin Nonno fresh and ready to fire


AUBURN, Wash. - Ragin Nonno was a good 2-year-old here last season, when he posted 2 wins and 2 seconds from 7 starts and finished his campaign with a fourth in the Gottstein Futurity. He will need to be better to win Sunday's six-furlong Auburn Stakes for 3-year-olds at Emerald Downs, and trainer Dave Bennett said Ragin Nonno is.

"I think he has matured quite a bit," said Bennett.

Ragin Nonno, an Arizona-bred son of Naevus, made each of his three starts this year at Turf Paradise. He finished a closing third in a 5 1/2-furlong race against optional claimers Feb. 19, then ran second to Corazondelcampeon in the six-furlong Palo Verde Handicap on March 5. Most recently, he scored a head victory in the Tempe Handicap at a mile on turf on March 25. Corazondelcampeon flattered his effort in the Palo Verde by returning to win the Harry Henson Stakes going 5 1/2 furlongs over the Santa Anita turf course on April 28.

"He really ran huge in the Palo Verde, because he lost a shoe and fell back badly leaving the gate," said Bennett. "It took him a long time to find his stride, but he fired real hard down the lane. I have no doubt he would have won if that hadn't happened."

After the Tempe, Bennett backed off on Ragin Nonno's training in an attempt to freshen him up for the early sprint stakes at this track.

"There was really no need to train him hard, because he was very fit off his Turf Paradise races," said Bennett. "I just wanted to have him fresh for this race, because when he is fresh he wants to run. I think he is coming up to this race very sharp, and I think he'll fire a good shot down the lane. He is probably going to be better with more ground, but he is a good sprinter when he is fresh."

Bennett said he was originally drawn to Ragin Nonno because of his sire, the Mr. Prospector stallion Naevus.

"Back in the mid-90's, I trained an old class horse named Bruho at Yakima Meadows, and he was by Naevus," said Bennett. "His best days were behind him when I had him, but I was always impressed by what a nice old horse he was. Because of Bruho I bought a filly by Naevus named Lady Glorious, and she won half a dozen races and over $70,000. Then later I bought another filly named Ask Not because she was out of a Naevus mare, and she won a dozen races and almost $250,000."

Given his experience with Naevus, it wasn't surprising that Bennett took an interest when he saw Ragin Nonno at a yearling auction in Arizona in 2004.

"I really wanted him because Naevus was getting old and I knew he couldn't have many more foals, but he was a great-looking yearling and I didn't think I could afford him," he said. "Fortunately, he fell through the cracks and I got him for $5,700. I wish I had a bunch more just like him."

Belvoir sends contrasting duo

Trainer Howard Belvoir will have a pair of live entrants in the Auburn in Tusko T. and Courting Seattle, the one-two finishers in last season's six-furlong Emerald Express Stakes. The two horses are nearly equal in ability, but very different in temperament.

"If anything Tusko T. is the more talented of the two, and he might be the most talented horse in my barn," said Belvoir. "He is a very nervous horse, though, and that makes him difficult to deal with. I've always had a hard time keeping weight on him, and he is capable of leaving his race in the paddock. He was dripping wet in the paddock before he won the stakes last year, and I was amazed that he won.

I didn't think he had a shot."

Belvoir said Tusko T. seems to have mellowed a bit with age, but that his nerves might be tested on Sunday.

"He has been better when I have schooled him in the paddock, but we'll just have to see how he handles the crowd on Sunday," said Belvoir. "I still have doubts about how he will handle the pressure of racing, but there is no question that he is talented and he is also very fit. He might run his best race first time out."

Belvoir says he has no such concerns about Courting Seattle, who was turned out after running second to Tusko T. in his third start as a juvenile. He won his first two starts against maiden special weight and allowance company.

"I turned him out because it would have been six or eight weeks before he had another opportunity to run, and I didn't want to keep grinding on him," said Belvoir. "It was the best thing I have ever done, because he really matured a lot before I brought him back in this spring. He always had a good mind, but now he is even more of a professional."

Though Belvoir clearly likes Courting Seattle's long-term prospects better than those of Tusko T., he did not express a preference for Sunday's race.

"They have both worked six furlongs three times, and the last time they went down there right together in 1:11 and change," he said. "There really isn't much to choose between them."