07/29/2003 12:00AM

Sharp trio stand out in claimer

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AUBURN, Wash. - Three of the sharpest runners on the grounds will tangle in Thursday's top offering at Emerald Downs, a six-furlong sprint for older horses eligible to be claimed for $20,000 to $18,000.

Sidekick, Melcapwalker, and Persee Joe have been on a tear at this meeting - Sidekick winning four of five starts, Melcapwalker winning his last three, and Persee Joe winning his last two and being claimed out of both starts.

Sidekick, a 6-year-old from the barn of trainer Rick Terry, ripped off three straight wins while ascending the class ladder from $8,000 to $16,000, then ran third to Sullivanitis at the $20,000 level before getting back on the winning track last time out. In that $16,000 claiming race on July 6, Sidekick came from just off the pace to win by more than a length in 1:15.40 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Melcapwalker, a 4-year-old trained by Bud Klokstad, has won for $12,500, $16,000, and $16,000 in his last three starts, but all of those wins came at route distances. He is largely unproven in sprints, but may be able to handle Thursday's cutback in distance given his sparkling form.

Persee Joe is coming off consecutive front-running sprint wins at the $12,500 and $20,000 claiming levels. He was claimed out of his most recent score - 6 1/2 furlongs run in 1:15.80 - by trainer Terry Gillihan for himself. Gillihan, who has won with 30 of 102 starters at the meet, retains rider Sandi Gann for Persee Joe at 123 pounds.

Rounding out the field are Long On Pride and Cascade Casey, both from the barn of Bonnie Jenne, and the Robbie Baze-trained Smokey Session.