09/04/2009 12:00AM

Stakes in everything but name at Emerald


AUBURN, Wash. - While it's not a stakes event, the feature race Sunday at Emerald Downs is laden with top-tier older horses, most of them out of stakes options as the season winds into its final three weeks. Racing begins at 2 p.m., and the feature is the ninth race on a 10-race program.

The leading contenders in the 6 1/2-furlong feature, Gallon, Nationhood, and Chhaya Dance, have combined for nine stakes victories, but because they were bred in Kentucky, they aren't eligible for next week's Washington Cup stakes races.

Sunday's race, a $20,000 allowance with a $40,000 optional claiming price, will serve as a consolation prize, though the winner will have to earn it the hard way; the six entrants have combined to win 39 races - including 14 stakes - and more than $870,000 in purses.

Gallon figures to be among the wagering favorites. Winless in four starts this summer, he most recently was eighth, beating by less than five lengths after a troubled trip, in the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile. Bumped and jostled entering the first turn, Gallon struck the inner rail a couple of times before settling near the back of the Mile pack on the backstretch. He rallied gamely but too late, finishing more than four lengths behind the winner for the first time in his 17-race career.

Gallon, who won two stakes at 2 in 2007 and two more, including the Emerald Derby, last summer, will be ridden by Juan Gutierrez for trainer Jim Penney.

Nationhood and Chhaya Dance, both coming off long layoffs for trainer Mike Chambers, will pose strong threats to Gallon if they're ready for top efforts. Nationhood is a four-time stakes winner, capturing two at Turf Paradise, and two more at Emerald, including the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap last summer. Nationhood hasn't raced since finishing far back in the 2008 Longacres Mile last August, but his recent workouts have been sensational, and Chambers has won with 29 percent of his starters at the meeting. Apprentice Cassie Papineau will ride Nationhood for the first time Sunday.

Chhaya Dance, a lightly-raced 5-year-old, will be making his first start since November. He captured the nine-furlong Mount Rainier Handicap at Emerald last summer, his only stakes victory, and posted a 98 Beyer Speed Figure when he finished third, a head behind 2008 Longacres Mile winner Wasserman, in the 6 1/2-furlong FSN Handicap. Seth Martinez has the riding assignment.

The field also includes Starbird Road, a four-time stakes winner; 11-time winner Chickasaw Park; and Stormy Seattle, who appears out of his element after a recent victory in a $15,000 claimer.