05/15/2003 11:00PM

Sabertooth back sprinting

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AUBURN, Wash. - Can Sabertooth sprint? Kay Cooper, assistant to trainer Jim Penney, had to smile when asked the question earlier this week. Throughout Sabertooth's 3-year-old season and for most of his 4-year-old campaign last year, it was generally conceded that Sabertooth was a brilliant sprinter. The question was whether he could handle a route distance, and he answered it definitively by winning the Grade 3 Longaces Mile and the 1 1/16-mile Washington Championship en route to Washington-bred horse of the year honors.

Still, an out-of-town fan studying the past performances for Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap might be excused for questioning whether Sabertooth can sprint. In Sabertooth's current past performance block there is only one sprint victory listed for the 5-year-old, and that came in an allowance race in June 2001. Two subsequent sprints resulted in a distant fourth in last season's Seattle Handicap and a last-place finish in the 2002 renewal of the Fox Sports Net. It wasn't until Sabertooth was stretched out around two turns that he reached his best form.

Cooper hopes that Sabertooth, who races for owners Bruce and Bob Sparling, will remind fans of his sprint ability Sunday.

"He's like Edneator," said Cooper, referring to the horse Penney, who is her father, sent out to win the Longacres Mile in 2000.

"He's a router with a sprinter's speed," she said. "And believe me, he still has all of his speed. He worked six furlongs in 1:12 on Tuesday, and he did it very easily. I expect him to be right up on the lead on Sunday, and I think he is ready to run a good race."

Don't forget Turban

Cooper and Penney aren't putting all their eggs in Sabertooth's basket, however. They will also send out Turban Racing's Turban, a lightly raced 4-year-old who closed strongly in his seasonal bow to finish third in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap April 27.

"He did just what we hoped he'd do in that race," Cooper said. "Remember that was just his fourth start and he was conceding a lot of seasoning to the other horses. Now he has one more race in him and he gets another half-furlong to work with. Ultimately he is going to want to go a mile or farther, but he is also a pretty darned good sprinter. We think he has a big shot on Sunday."

Makors Mark returns

The Fox Sports Net will also mark the return of Emerald's 2001 horse of the meeting, Makors Mark. The 6-year-old Makors Mark started only twice at last year's meet, winning the five-furlong Chinook Pass Owners' Handicap in his second outing, but started another six times at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Oaklawn Park during Emerald's off season. His best finish from the Midwest campaign came in his last outing April 9 at Oaklawn, when he finished third in the Grade 3 Fifth Season Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

"I actually thought he ran better in his previous race, which was the Razorback Handicap," said trainer Grant Forster. "He finished sixth, but he dueled for the lead the whole way and was beaten less than two lengths.

"He might have done better last time, but he aggravated his quarter crack that day. He has a chronic quarter crack in his right front hoof, and we have always had to work around that. I gave him some time to let the quarter crack subside, and he seems to be doing really well now. He is still plenty fit from all the routes he ran in the Midwest, so I don't think he'll be at a big disadvantage on Sunday."

Forster said that his main goals for Makors Mark at this meet are the $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup at 1 1/8 miles July 27, the $250,000 Longacres Mile August 24, and the $50,000 Washington Cup Classic at 1 1/16 miles Sept. 21.

But, he warned that his stable star should not be taken lightly Sunday.

"Obviously, I haven't cranked on him the way I might have done if this race were his main goal, and in that sense I guess you could say it's a prep," he said. "But the thing to remember about this horse is that he has a huge heart. He's going to lay his body down no matter what. When a horse does that, good things happen."

* Jockey Hector Ventura Jr., who has been sidelined since last summer with health problems, is galloping horses at Emerald and hopes to resume riding in mid-June. Ventura finished ninth in last season's standings with 42 wins and ranks sixth in career victories at Emerald Downs with 250.