09/11/2003 11:00PM

Ruby Dawn earned shot at Fletcher

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AUBURN, Wash. - Only two starts back, Ruby Dawn was hoping to score a maiden victory at the $6,250 level. Today, she is preparing for the $40,000 John and Kitty Fletcher Stakes for Washington-bred 3-year-old fillies at a mile, one of eight stakes on the inaugural Washington Cup Day card at Emerald Downs on Sept. 21.

Two starts can make a big difference in the career of an improving young horse, which aptly describes Ruby Dawn. When she was dropped from the $12,500 to the $6,250 level for her sixth career start on June 27, she was also stretched out to a mile. Either the drop in class or the added distance agreed with her greatly, because she won by more than 16 lengths in an astonishing 1:36.40.

Still, nobody could have been sure that she would repeat that performance against better company until she was asked to do so last Sunday. A lot had happened in the 72-day interim between her races to raise doubts. First, she was sold to owners Tim and Sue Spooner in a private transaction and transferred to the barn of Dan Markle. Next, she missed a scheduled start against $6,250 starter allowance company on Longacres Mile Day, Aug. 24, when she was accidentally left behind the starting gate.

Despite the gap between her races, Markle entered Ruby Dawn back in a one-mile race for $50,000 optional claimers at Emerald last Sunday, and watched as she nearly reproduced the performance of her maiden win. Though she won by "only" 6 3/4 lengths over stablemate and runner-up Driving Miss Susie, she did so in an impressive 1:36 for the mile and earned a shot at the Fletcher.

"Why not run her there?" asked Markle. "Youcan'ttakeme has won everything in the 3-year-old filly division, and she isn't going to run in this race. Ruby Dawn has run about as well as anything else in the division in her last two races, and she won that last race very easily. Who knows how well she can run now that she has a recent race under her belt?"

Markle could only point to the added distance when asked to account for Ruby Dawn's sudden and dramatic improvement.

Still, it would have been hard to predict that she would improve with distance before she did so. Her dam, Tempered Dawn, was a stakes winner of six races and $114,220, but she went 0 for 5 in route races. Her sire, Pioneering, though a half-brother to leading sire Storm Cat by Mr. Prospector, scored both of his career wins in sprints.

* Markle figures to be busy on Washington Cup Day. He plans to start both Ruby Dawn and Driving Miss Susie in the Fletcher, Too Fast to Top in the $40,000 Trooper Seven Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile, and Baby Let's Groove in the $40,000 Diane Kem Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

"Baby Let's Groove is another good claim that the Spooners made," Markle said. "She won when they claimed her from her first race for $8,000, then she came back and won for $25,000. Now she thinks she can beat anybody."

Victor Slew in Chinook Pass Sprint

Baby Let's Groove was claimed from trainer Frank Lucarelli, but Lucarelli made a nifty claim of his own when he took the 4-year-old Victor Slew for $25,000 in May. In five subsequent starts, Victor Slew has three wins and two seconds, including a victory in the Washington Owner's Handicap at five furlongs on Longacres Mile Day.

"He was a good, sound horse when I claimed him, and he had only started 12 times," said Lucarelli. "I didn't really do anything to move him up. He figured to get better with experience and maturity, and I think that is what happened."

Lucarelli said Victor Slew will go in the $40,000 Chinook Pass Sprint at six furlongs on Washington Cup Day. He also plans to start Bartus Christian and Big Wagner in the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles for 2-year-olds, Melba Jean in the Diane Kem, Marva Jean in the Fletcher, and Freedom Song in the Trooper Seven.

Youcan'ttakeme points to Indiana Oaks

Grant Forster, the leading stakes trainer at the meet with six stakes wins, is saving horse of the meeting candidate Youcan'ttakeme for the $250,000 Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park on Oct. 3. Forster will not be left on the sidelines on Washington Cup Day, however.

He recently took over the training of impressive maiden special weight winner Count Orange, who will be supplemented to the Gottstein for a $10,000 fee. Forster will also saddle Run Max Run and Iron Top in the Chinook Pass Sprint, Skyrider in the $40,000 Captain Condo Stakes for 2-year-olds at six furlongs, and Infernal McGoon in the $50,000 Belle Roberts Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Forster had success campaigning half a dozen horses in the Midwest last off-season, and he hopes to build on that this fall and winter. Forster plans to take 20 to 25 horses to Kentucky, where he will be stabled initially at Keeneland. And he will not have to scramble about for a good rider. Gary Baze will accompany Forster to the Midwest and ride ride first call on all his horses