04/23/2009 11:00PM

Road to Emerald Derby starts here

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AUBURN, Wash. - A compact but talented field of five is scheduled to compete Sunday in the six-furlong, $30,000 Auburn Stakes at Emerald Downs, the first step for 3-year-olds on the path to the Emerald Downs Derby. The Auburn Stakes is the eighth race on a 10-race card that begins at 2 p.m.

Two top trainers will play a prominent role in the Auburn outcome. Doris Harwood, the leading money-winning trainer at Emerald last summer, has two runners in the race. Both were stakes winners in 2008. Tim McCanna, who topped the Emerald trainer standings with a record 66 wins last year, has two in the race as well. Both were stakes-placed at 2. Each of the top four contenders last raced more than six months ago. Each has been working forwardly for his 2009 debut.

Enumerator, trained by Harwood for owner Herman Sarkowsky, captured the 6 1/2-furlong Strong Ruler Stakes in August in his third and final start as a 2-year-old. Noosa Beach, a homebred owned by Harwood's husband, Jeff, won the six-furlong Captain Condo Stakes in September and then finished second to Emerald champion 2-year-old Gallant Son in the $90,000 Gottstein Futurity in his season finale.

The McCanna pair - Snake Attack and Rooster City - were hard-luck losers in stakes company. Snake Attack, owned by Vince Bahna Jr., finished a close-up third after a race-long speed duel in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda Stakes in July. Rooster City, owned by Charles Dunn's Dunn Bar Ranch, was narrowly beaten by Gallant Son in the one-mile WTBA Lads Stakes in August.

Snake Attack appears to be the speed of the race, though California shipper Alpakapaluza has a quick turn of foot. Alpakapaluza ran fractions of 44.20 and 57.20 seconds before giving way to finish fifth in a six-furlong starter allowance race at Golden Gate Fields just two weeks ago. A fit horse making his third start after a layoff, Alpakapaluza could complicate the pace picture for Snake Attack and set up the race for off-the-pace types Rooster City, Enumerator, or Noosa Beach.

"It looks like there's just enough speed to make Snake Attack honest," said Harwood, whose Noosa Beach could start as the betting favorite. "Both of my horses like to sit off the pace, so I'm going to be chasing down the speed."

The Auburn is the first of six Emerald Downs stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings. Next is the 6 1/2-furlong, $50,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap on May 31. The final four races are at a mile or longer, with divisional honors likely to be determined in the nine-furlong, $75,000 Emerald Downs Derby on Sept. 7. By then several more horses will have joined the list of contenders. Harwood may have one in Winning Machine, an impressive winner in a first-level allowance on opening weekend.