06/16/2005 11:00PM

Sabertooth doing better than ever


AUBURN, Wash. - What does a horse do for an encore after he sets a world record, as Sabertooth did last month when he sped 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13 in the FSN Handicap at Emerald Downs?

"He comes right back at 'em," answered assistant trainer Kay Cooper, confirming that Sabertooth will head a field of six in Sunday's $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap at a mile.

Cooper's husband, Bryson, went a step farther and said Sabertooth is ready to run the fastest mile of his career. That's saying something, since the 7-year-old Sabertooth won the 2002 edition of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in 1:34.60.

"I think he is better now than he was when he won the Mile," said Bryson Cooper, who regularly gallops and works Sabertooth. "He is bigger, stronger, and more mature. He's at his very best right now, too. Believe me, he's ready to run a huge race."

Sabertooth is apparently doing so well that not even his stablemates want to mess with him. Kay Cooper said she is searching for a way to avoid running Flamethrowintexan against Sabertooth in next month's Independence Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. Flamethrowintexan, who was named last season's top 3-year-old at Emerald, won his 4-year-old debut here last Saturday with 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.80. He races for Paul and Diane Heist.

"Paul doesn't want to run him against Sabertooth right now, so I'm looking for another race for him," said Kay Cooper. "There is a race for him at Churchill and another at Hastings Park, but neither of them is perfect for him."

Cooper was referring to the six-furlong, $150,000 Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill next Saturday, which she considers too quick back for Flamethrowintexan, and the 1 1/8-mile, $125,000 Lt. Governor's Handicap at Hastings on July 1, which she considers too long for a horse with only one sprint prep under his girth.

"If anybody knows of a better spot for him, I wish they would let me know," she said.

As for the barn's third handicap star, Salt Grinder, Cooper said he was not nominated to Sunday's race because he bruised a hoof winning a six-furlong allowance race in a track-record-equaling 1:07.60 on May 21. She couldn't be certain when he will race again.

Velasquez on a hot streak

Trainer Rigoberto Velasquez enjoyed the most success of his burgeoning training career last weekend when he sent out three winners. Velasquez scored with both of his starters on Saturday, Market Master and Gold Crusader, then came back on Sunday to post a $31.80 upset with Treink.

Velasquez, a 41-year-old native of Jalisco, Mexico, launched his training career here in 2002 after a lengthy apprenticeship with trainers Clint Roberts, Mike Chambers, Wesley Ward, and Howard Belvoir. He won six races in each of his first two years of training from 46 and 39 starters, respectively, then won 11 races from 100 starters last year. Through the first 30 days of this 101-day stand, Velasquez already has six wins from 41 starters.

"I started out with seven horses in my first year, but now I'm up to 20," he said. "I'm happy with the way my barn has grown. I like to be busy. I still try to gallop 14 of them a day myself."

Velasquez's most productive horse at this meeting has been the venerable Market Master, who has posted easy wins over $3,500 and $5,000 rivals in two starts. The trainer claimed Market Master for $3,200 last August, and at the time it seemed a rather risky purchase. Market Master was 10 at the time, and was presumably nearing the end of a career that had seen him post 15 wins from 40 starts for several different trainers. Velasquez didn't want to be the only trainer not to do well with Market Master, yet he didn't hesitate to take him when clients suggested the claim.

"I like these old horses," he said. "I claimed Toobusytoocall at about the same age and I won some races with him, so I thought I could win some with Market Master. He's an old pro, and I think he'll keep winning as long as he stays sound and I run him where he belongs. I'm not worried about losing him at his age, so I plan to run him where he can win. That's what we're here for, to win races."

Debbie's Assault has surgery

The good 3-year-old filly Debbie's Assault, owned by Jerre Paxton, has been sidelined with a breathing problem, trainer Bob McMeans said.

"She went to Washington State University after her last race, and they operated on her to try to correct the problem," said McMeans. "She is supposed to be off six weeks before she can train again, then we would have to start all over with her. Jerre might just decide to hang it up for the year."

In two starts this year, Debbie's Assault ran second to divisional leader Queenledo in the six-furlong U. S. Bank Stakes and third to the same rival in the 6 1/2-furlong Federal Way Handicap.