06/01/2006 11:00PM

Same formidable duo for Belvoir

Remington Park
Slewicide Cruise, 6, has raced just four times since winning the 2004 Inaugural Handicap (above).

AUBURN, Wash. - There is a new cast of characters and a different distance, 6 1/2 furlongs, for Sunday's Pepsi-Cola Handicap for 3-year-olds at Emerald Downs. One thing, however, remains unchanged from the May 7 running of the Seattle Handicap at six furlongs: Trainer Howard Belvoir will send out Courting Seattle and Tusko T., and both appear to be right on target.

Courting Seattle won the Seattle Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths over pacesetter Ballou Slew. Tusko T. finished another nose back in third.

"They both ran well, and both of them have continued to train well," said Belvoir. "I actually missed a work with Courting Seattle, because I didn't like the track the day I planned to work him. But I just waited a few days and worked him six furlongs. He went very well, and I don't think he'll be at any kind of disadvantage on Sunday."

Belvoir said Tusko T. is coming up to his second start of the season in especially good shape. Not only has he trained forwardly, registering a half-mile drill in a bullet 46.20 on May 19, but he has also gained weight. That is an encouraging sign, since Tusko T. is a nervous, sometimes volatile individual who has had trouble maintaining his weight.

"I think maybe he is finally settling down a little with age and experience," said Belvoir. "I have always felt he was very talented, but he has been his own worst enemy at times. If he has really turned the corner as far as maturity is concerned, he could still improve quite a bit."

Belvoir said Tusko T.'s rider, Juan Gutierrez, feels confident he will win the Pepsi-Cola, or at least outrun Courting Seattle. He said Jennifer Whitaker exercises both horses, however, and she has always wanted to ride Courting Seattle.

"I really don't know which one has the better chance," he said. "I just hope one of them can get the job done."

Expect better from Ragin Nonno

Also entered in the Pepsi-Cola Handicap was Ragin Nonno, who ran fourth in the Seattle Handicap, but was beaten only three lengths. Trainer Dave Bennett said he feels Ragin Nonno has a lot of room for improvement.

"He bumped hard at the start with Sharper Edge, and Sharper Edge is a lot bigger horse than he is," said Bennett. "He was knocked off stride and fell back to next-to-last, so he had a lot of ground to make up. He was closing hard at the end, though, and I think the extra sixteenth of a mile on Sunday will help him a lot."

On Thursday, Ragin Nonno was taking one of his daily treatments under a thermal blanket. The blanket contains 12 infrared heating pads, and assistant trainer Judy Miller said Ragin Nonno wears it between 30 and 60 minutes each day.

"It is supposed to be good for all kinds of things, but we mainly use it on him because he likes it," said Miller. "We put it on him and he doesn't move a muscle until we take it off. You can tell he really enjoys it, and we like to keep him happy."

Keagan makes first Emerald start

Trainer Bill Tollett said his new $80,000 purchase, Keagan, blew out smartly Thursday morning. Keagan, a Washington-bred son of Basket Weave who was claimed at Hollywood Park on May 17, will make his Emerald Downs debut in the Pepsi-Cola.

"The clockers caught him going three furlongs in 36.40, and I caught him going a little faster than that," said Tollett. "The main thing was that he finished really strong. The jockey was happy, and I was happy. We think he'll run really well."

Tollett is shooting for his third consecutive stakes win at the meeting. He won the Federal Way Handicap with Diamond Dollars two weeks ago, then came back to win last Monday's FSN Handicap with Spanish Highway.

"Why not make it three in a row?" said Tollett. "It would be my own little triple crown."

Mr. Makah done for the year

Trainer Bonnie Jenne reports that Mr. Makah will sit out the remainder of his 6-year-old season after injuring a suspensory ligament while training last month. Mr. Makah, who won the Emerald Handicap and the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic here last season, raced only once at the meeting. He finished third in a six-furlong allowance test on April 30.

"His injury wasn't severe, but I plan to give him a full year off," said Jenne. "There is no hurry, even though he'll be 7 when we bring him back. I really feel like he'll be at his best when he is 8 or 9. He is just that kind of horse."

Slewicide Cruise not seriously hurt

Slewicide Cruise, who missed all of last year with a suspensory ligament injury, gave trainer Robbie Baze a scare when he finished 10th and last in Monday's FSN Handicap. Baze said he feared Slewicide Cruise had aggravated his injury, but that was not the case.

"It turned out that he charged the gate and bloodied his nose, then he broke awkwardly and grabbed a quarter," Baze said. "He tore a little chunk off of his hoof, and between that and the bloody nose he just didn't feel like running. I don't blame him. It's too bad those things happened, but at least he wasn't seriously injured. He'll be back."