05/19/2005 12:00AM

Salt Grinder looks up to tall task

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AUBURN, Wash. - Salt Grinder heads a stakes-quality field in Saturday's Emerald Downs feature, a $40,000 optional claiming affair at six furlongs.

Salt Grinder, a 6-year-old son of Salt Lake from the powerful barn of trainer Jim Penney, will be making his yearly debut after compiling an evenly spaced string of fast workouts topped by six furlongs in 1:11 last Sunday. Last year, Salt Grinder won his first two starts, going six furlongs in 1:08.20 to defeat allowance rivals and then winning the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap in 1:14.60. He raced only once more in 2004, fading to finish 11th after pressing the pace in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Salt Grinder will face formidable opposition in Prize Weaver and Willie the Cat, both of whom also won stakes at last year's meet. The 5-year-old Prize Weaver closed out his 2004 campaign with three straight wins, including a victory in the Owner's Handicap on Longacres Mile Day. Willie the Cat won his first three starts last year at age 5, including victories in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap and the 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap. Both Prize Weaver and Willie the Cat are coming off unplaced efforts in this year's Seattle Handicap, which was run on April 24.

Also entered are a trio of 4-year-olds who hope to make a name for themselves in the handicap division this season. Count Orange, No Giveaway, and On the Ave all scored at the allowance level last year.