05/24/2006 11:00PM

Salt Grinder in for a tag for first time

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AUBURN, Wash. - Salt Grinder drops out of the stakes ranks to take on eight rivals in Saturday's Emerald Downs feature, a 6 1/2-furlong test for older horses to be contested under $32,000 optional claiming conditions.

Salt Grinder, a 7-year-old son of Salt Lake from the barn of trainer Jim Penney, is one of four in the field who will be racing for the $32,000 tag. It is quite a comedown for Salt Grinder, a two-time stakes winner over this track who has never run for a claiming price. He won just 1 of 4 starts last year, however, and began his current campaign with a seventh in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap on April 30. Penney apparently feels that Salt Grinder is due for some class relief, and is dropping him before he has time to become discouraged. Regular rider Gallyn Mitchell has the mount at 120 pounds.

Salt Grinder, a front-runner, will need to avoid dueling with the extremely quick Free Cocktails, who has won 4 of his last 5 starts, all against lesser. Free Cocktails, who is trained by Sharon Ross, won his seasonal debut on May 7, when he got six furlongs in 1:09.80 to defeat $7,500 starter allowance company by four lengths.

A rigorous duel for the lead would benefit My Friend Dave and Rusty Rolls, both of whom possess potent stretch kicks. My Friend Dave comes off a pair of closing fourths to allowance rivals at Golden Gate, while Rusty Rolls defeated $25,000 optional claimers in his seasonal debut here on May 6 with 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.60.