04/27/2006 11:00PM

Seattle 'Cap tests a generation

Vassar Photography
Court's in Session, who raced only once in 2005, is up from Bay Meadows.

AUBURN, Wash. - Much of the interest in early-season handicaps comes in seeing how the newly turned 4-year-olds fit with the established stars of the division, and that is very much the case with Sunday's six-furlong Seattle Handicap at Emerald Downs.

The list of 20 nominees for the Seattle contained seven 4-year-olds, including Pepsi-Cola Handicap winner and Emerald Derby runner-up Norm's Nephew. Unfortunately, Norm's Nephew will have to skip the initial stakes for older runners.

"I've got a little virus going around my barn right now, and Norm's Nephew is one of the horses who is affected by it," said trainer Jimmy Orr. "I don't think it is anything serious, but the timing is bad and he'll have to miss this race."

The defection of Norm's Nephew will leave The Great Face carrying the banner for the 4-year-old generation on Sunday, and he seems a worthy standard-bearer. The Great Face, a speedy son of Cahill Road, won 3 of 6 starts here last season, and he missed by just a head to Another Bob in the 5 1/2-furlong Stars and Stripes Handicap. His other two losses came when he was beaten by Pure as Gold in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race and by older foes in the 1 1/16-mile Muckleshoot Tribal Classic on Washington Cup Day, Oct. 2. Trainer Tom Wenzel turned him out after that outing, and he returned to training here in February.

"He has trained well all spring, and I'm hoping he is ready to show what he can do," said Wenzel. "I think he has matured some from 3 to 4, but he was a good-sized 3-year-old, and I can't say he has grown much. What it comes down to is whether he is good enough to go with some of these tough older horses. I guess we'll just have to see what happens on Sunday, but I do find it encouraging that the 3-year-olds who beat him last year have already proven themselves against older horses."

Another Bob returned to beat older allowance rivals at Sunland Park in his 4-year-old debut, while Pure as Gold is working on a three-race win streak against older foes in 6 1/2-furlong grass races at Santa Anita. In his last outing on April 22, Pure as Gold won the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap by nearly two lengths, hanging up a Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

Court's in Session ready to go

Trainer Junior Coffey reported that the probable Seattle Handicap favorite, Court's in Session, arrived here on Wednesday after vanning up from trainer Brian Koriner's barn at Bay Meadows.

"He was a little tired when he got here, as you would expect, but his eyes were bright, and that's always a good sign," said Coffey. "He jogged on Thursday and he seemed to go all right, so everything looks good. Brian told me he is plenty fit, and he doesn't want me to do much with him before the race."

Court's in Session, a 7-year-old son of Petersburg, won the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint in 2004, but took almost all of 2005 off. He has raced four times since returning to action in December, with his best effort coming when he ran second to Carthage in the Feb. 15 Fairfax Stakes at Golden Gate. Carthage flattered that effort when he came back to defeat the mighty Lost in the Fog in the April 22 Golden Gate Sprint for his fourth win in a row.

Starbird Road a solid horse now

The sleeper in Sunday's field could be Starbird Road, who ended his 4-year-old campaign last season with a pair of powerhouse wins over optional claiming company and a third in the Chinook Pass Handicap, which was run over a sloppy surface that he dislikes.

"We were really happy with the way he ran last year, especially because he had missed his entire 3-year-old season," said trainer Sharon Ross. "He was really playing catch-up all last year, but that is no longer the case. He ran seven times last year, and now I think of him as an experienced horse who is versatile and knows what he is doing out there. I think we can have a lot of fun with him this year."

Pincay coming for DVD promotion

Laffit Pincay Jr., the world's winningest rider with 9,530 wins, will be at Emerald Downs on Sunday to promote the release of a new 96-minute DVD called "Laffit - All About Winning." The first 3,000 fans through the turnstiles will receive free copies, and Pincay will be available to sign autographs from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Among the Hall of Fame rider's lesser-known feats is that he is the top percentage rider at Emerald Downs. Pincay took 28 mounts at this track before retiring in 2003, scoring with 15 for a win rate of 53.6 percent.