06/12/2003 11:00PM

Stablemates sharp for Emerald Bud

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AUBURN, Wash. - Who do you like, Sabertooth or Turban?

That's not the only question that handicappers will face in Sunday's $75,000 Emerald Budweiser Handicap at a mile, but it may be the thorniest.

The 4-year-old Turban beat his 5-year-old stablemate Sabertooth in last month's Fox Sports Net Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, but that was Sabertooth's first outing since he posted back-to-back wins in last season's Grade 3 Longacres Mile and the Washington Championship. Now that both horses have a recent race under their girths, who should be preferred?

"That's really hard to say," said Kay Cooper, who serves as assistant trainer for her father, Jim Penney. "Sabertooth probably needed his last race, and he has really been training well since then. But Turban has been training well, too, and he is still improving. I'm glad I don't have to choose between them."

If anybody is in a better position than Cooper to judge the respective chances of the stablemates, it might be her husband, Bryson, who regularly exercises both. But even he had a difficult time separating the two.

"I worked Sabertooth last week at the end of a gallop, and he went the last five-eighths in 59.40," he said. "A couple of days later I did the same thing with Turban, and he went the last five-eighths in 59.40, too. That's how close they are right now.

"The one thing I'll say is that Turban may have done it a little easier than Sabertooth. Maybe he still has a little fitness edge, since he has raced twice this year. Sabertooth has an experience edge, though, and that might show up in the race.

"All I know is that they're both going to be very tough to beat."

Crowning Meeting to be retired

The news was decidedly mixed at the barn of Sharon Ross, who had hoped to run the 9-year-old Crowning Meeting and the 8-year-old Moonlight Meeting, both double stakes winners at last year's meet, in Sunday's stakes.

"Crowning Meeting is not going to make it," she said. "We had him ultrasounded on Tuesday, and it looks like he reinjured the check ligament that he hurt last year. At his age, I think we'll have to retire him."

Crowning Meeting, a full brother to Grade 1 stakes winner Excellent Meeting who raced for George and Norma Sedlock's G & N Thoroughbreds, will retire with earnings of more than $500,000 and 14 wins in 47 starts.

Though the barn's hopes for handicap success now rest solely on Moonlight Meeting's shoulders, they are very sturdy shoulders. Moonlight Meeting won 2 of 3 stakes here last meet, with his only loss a second-place finish to Sabertooth in the Longacres Mile. Ross said he has trained spectacularly for his return.

"He worked six furlongs in 1:10.80 last Sunday, and the next day we couldn't keep his feet on the ground," she said. "We had to gallop him again on Tuesday.

"He had the winter off at our place and we put him back into training on Feb. 1. He hasn't missed a beat, so he has a good foundation under him. He seems as good as ever. He's nice and sound for an old horse, and he likes this track. I'm expecting him to run a big race."

I'madrifter gets another shot

Trainer Steve Specht arrived here on Tuesday from San Francisco with I'madrifter, who will be taking his second crack at the Budweiser Emerald. He only hopes things go better than they did last year.

"He went to his nose leaving the gate and grabbed a quarter, then he got fanned wide and never made the lead," Specht recalled. "He has never been one to come from off the pace, so his race was pretty much over at that point. It was just a bad day, but hopefully we'll get even on Sunday."

To do that, I'madrifter will probably have to outrun Sabertooth for the early lead. That's a tall order, but it is by no means impossible for I'madrifter, the front-running winner of the Grade 3 Berkley Handicap at a mile in March at Golden Gate.

"Obviously I wish Sabertooth wasn't in there, but my horse has kept up with some awfully fast sprinters in California," Specht said. "He is better going long, and he is at his best when he can get out there by himself and slow the pace down a little. When he gets things his way, it takes a very good horse to beat him."

Instant Racing growing in popularity

Art McFadden, president of Portland Meadows, said that Instant Racing machines are growing in popularity at Multnomah Greyhound Park in Portland, which, like Portland Meadows, is owned by Magna Entertainment Company.

"We put 20 borrowed machines in the dog track a couple of weeks ago, and the first day they handled $321," he said. "Now they are handling over $3,000 a day, and the handle is growing every day."

If the machines, which offer parimutuel wagering on videos of previously run races, are deemed a success, their numbers will be increased at Multnomah and they will be installed at Portland Meadows, which reopens for live racing in October.