08/07/2006 11:00PM

Roberts knows long and short of it


AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Craig Roberts enjoyed a banner weekend, winning Saturday's allowance feature with sprint sensation Westsideclyde and then coming back on Sunday to win the $65,000 Seattle Slew Handicap for 3-year-olds with 25-1 shot Exclusive Eagle.

Westsideclyde, a 4-year-old son of Old Topper, was 7-10 to defeat three overmatched rivals in Saturday's six-furlong feature, yet he has been as much a surprise to Roberts as any horse he has trained through a distinguished career that has spanned nearly five decades.

"He had what we thought was a career-ending injury here as a 2-year-old," said Roberts. "He perforated his tendon, and we really didn't expect to get him back to the races."

When Westsideclyde did return to the races here on May 14, he did so on the $10,000 maiden-claiming level.

"I wasn't really trying to steal a race," said Roberts. "I knew he had talent, but I didn't know how well he would hold up. That's where I thought he belonged."

Westsideclyde won that maiden race by 2 1/2 lengths, then came back to defeat $17,500 winners by 3 1/2 lengths. He finished fifth to $25,000 optional claiming company in his next outing, but came back to defeat the same kind with six furlongs in 1:08, the best time at the meeting for the distance, before repeating on Saturday with six furlongs in 1:08.20, which was good for a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

Westsideclyde's performance had rider Ben Russell comparing him to Handy N Bold, who won a record 10 local sprint stakes, and Roberts was scarcely less enthusiastic.

"He appears to have it all," said the trainer. "He has really been winning very easily, and the way he does it, with his ears pricked, is indicative that he might run farther."

As far as a mile, as in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 20? Owner James Riedinger quickly dismissed that notion, saying that he would be looking for a $10,000 starter allowance race for his stable star. Roberts, however, wanted to keep all of his options open.

"I went ahead and nominated him for the Mile myself," said the trainer. "I figure I've got two weeks to convince Jim to let me run him."

Winning gamble with Exclusive Eagle

Many an owner might have been reluctant to allow Roberts to run Exclusive Eagle in Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Seattle Slew. He had only a maiden win to show for 10 career starts, and he was coming off a third-place finish behind two of his Seattle Slew rivals, Zillah's Knight and Ragin Nonno, in a one-mile allowance race. Owners Don and Judi Gardiner were game to try their homebred against the best 3-year-olds on the grounds, however. It was Roberts who was lukewarm to the idea.

"I wasn't real confident," Roberts confessed. "I did think the distance would suit him, but I wasn't sure about anything else. The 3-year-old picture has been so muddled this year, I finally decided it was a good time to take a shot."

That shot hit the bull's-eye when Exclusive Eagle forged to the front under rider Mick Ruis at midstretch, then held off the closing charge of Brother Bobby to prevail by a half-length in 1:42.40. The performance earned Exclusive Eagle a shot at the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby at nine furlongs on Sept. 4.

Roberts won the Derby at Longacres in 1971 with Rock Bath and in 1975 with Dusty County. He also ran third in the 1997 Derby at this track with Flying with Eagles, who is Exclusive Eagle's sire.

"Exclusive Eagle is a great deal like his sire," said Roberts. "Flying with Eagles was a little reluctant to do what I wanted him to do, and Exclusive Eagle is the same way. They both have elegant, almost feminine builds, too, but that didn't stop Flying with Eagles from going on to win over $300,000. It would be nice if Exclusive Eagle could have the same kind of career."

Look for action on Brother Bobby

It's a good bet that the favorite for the Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby will be exiting the Seattle Slew, but it won't be Exclusive Eagle. We'll go out on a limb and predict that runner-up Brother Bobby, who is still a maiden, will be the public's choice.

Brother Bobby, a strapping son of Out of Place from the barn of trainer Grant Forster, had raced only once before Sunday, finishing second in a maiden special weight test at Turfway Park in December. Nonetheless, he was 3-5 at the first click of the tote, and he went off as the 5-2 second choice to the 2-1 third-place finisher, Courting Seattle. Brother Bobby nearly justified his backers' enthusiasm, finishing fastest of all to fall just a half-length short under Ricky Frazier.

"We would have liked to win, of course, but I was very pleased with the way he ran off the bench," said Forster. "He showed me what I needed to see to run him in the Derby, and he is only going to be better with a recent race under his girth. I'm hoping he can get his maiden win in there."

Forster, incidentally, could shed no light on the heavy early betting action on Brother Bobby.

"I talked to the owners, who live in Chicago, and they said they didn't do it," he said. "I know I didn't do it, so it's a mystery to me."