06/24/2002 11:00PM

Smart bettors, short-priced winners

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AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs bettors have been remarkably sharp all meet, sending off more than 37 percent winning favorites coming into last week's racing. They were never sharper than for Sunday's $45,000 Seattle Slew Stakes.

The field of seven was headed by no less than five extremely fast 3-year-olds, who were very difficult to separate and going a mile for the first time. The track's morning line, which has correctly pegged the favorite in 82 percent of the races at this stand, clumped the top five prospects tightly together. Bold Ranger, who was coming off back-to-back wins in sprint stakes, was 5-2. Then came Flying Notes at 3-1, Salt Grinder at 7-2, All in One at 4-1, and Tickletime at 6-1.

The fans disagreed, pounding both Flying Notes and Salt Grinder down to 2-1, while letting the others drift well above their morning-line odds, and they were dead right.

Flying Notes shot to the front at the start and maintained a short lead over Salt Grinder despite staying far off the inside rail. Finally, when Salt Grinder attacked him from the inside midway around the second turn, Flying Notes dropped down to meet him and the battle was joined. The two favorites battled head and head into the stretch before Flying Notes began to pull away en route to a five-length victory in 1:35.20. Salt Grinder easily held second as 16-1 longshot Vernon Lodge got up for third over All in One, with Bold Ranger fifth.

"He always wants to get out on the turns," said rider Ben Russell of the winner's wide trip. "But as soon as the other horse came to him he went right down there and got back in the race. It turned out he had plenty left."

Trainer Bud Klokstad, who notched a record 31st local stakes win in the Seattle Slew, was disconcerted by Flying Notes's antics, but couldn't complain about the results.

"Maybe he's smarter than we are, because in the end he got Salt Grinder to go up inside of him, and that's right where we wanted him," said Klokstad.

"I think he might have beaten Bold Ranger in his last race if he had been able to get to the outside. With a little break here and there, in fact, he might be undefeated now."

Flying Notes, whom Klokstad purchased for $27,000 for owners Ruth and Johnny Lewis at Washington's summer yearling sale in 2000, has four wins and two close losses on his ledger from six starts, and he has compiled $61,915 in earnings. Now that he has proven he can navigate two turns, albeit a bit erratically, he has the potential to make a lot more.

'Always' a professional

Barbara Heads, who trains Always a Dixie for Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Bennett, is breathing easier now. After Always a Dixie won her first two starts as a 4-year-old at Golden Gate last spring, the Bennetts were offered what Heads called "a whole lot of money" for her, but Heads advised them to turn the offer down, assuring the owners that their late-blooming mare would develop into a stakes winner.

Always a Dixie made good on her trainer's promise in the May 26 Washington State Legislators Handicap, winning the 6 1/2-furlong stakes by a desperate nose over Neon Queen at 25-1. She confirmed her quality on Saturday, again defeating Neon Queen, by three-quarters of a length, after a mile in 1:36 in the King County Handicap. Graceful Cat held third after leading into the stretch.

"I'm sure glad R.J. didn't sell her," said Heads. "She is a total professional, and she is so determined. I think she had to dig even deeper in this race than in the last one, because she had to overcome a stumble at the start. Then she had to run hard for the length of the stretch to catch Graceful Cat, and finally she had to hold off Neon Queen again. It was a very game effort."

Always Dixie, a B.C.-bred daughter of Dixieland Brass, improved her record to 5 wins from 10 starts and $95,040 in earnings.

* Veteran rider Gary Baze underwent surgery to repair a broken ankle on Saturday and will be out of action for six to eight weeks, according to his wife and agent, Vicky Baze. Baze was injured in a spill in the eighth race here on Friday.

* Arctic White, one of only a dozen Thoroughbreds to be registered as pure white in color, made his debut in Sunday's eighth race, for maiden special weights, and finished a distant last of eight.