04/15/2008 11:00PM

Stakes winners clash in meet opener

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AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs will open its 13th season Friday with an eight-race card headed by a stakes-quality field of six in the day's feature, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance test for older sprinters.

The 2008 meeting will stretch 91 days through Sept. 28, with first post set for 6 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Average daily purse distribution at the meeting is projected to reach an all-time high of $116,620, up 4.5 percent from last season's average of $111,569. A significant portion of the purses will come from a contribution from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which continues a partnership with the track begun in 2004.

The highlight of the meet is the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile, to be run Aug. 17. The winner of the Longacres Mile gets a berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile under the Win and You're In program.

All six of the runners in Friday's headliner are stakes winners, and favoritism is expected to be hotly disputed, but Chickasaw Park may be a slight choice off a banner 2007 campaign that netted 4 wins from 10 starts.

Chickasaw Park posted back-to-back wins here in September in his last two starts of the year. He won the $45,000 Chinook Pass Handicap at six furlongs, then ended his season with a two-length victory over Immigration in the five-furlong Owners' Handicap on closing day, Sept. 30. Trainer Pat Mullens gave him the winter off and he has been training forwardly for his return on Friday, when he will be ridden by defending riding champion Ricky Frazier.

Chickasaw Park could get his sternest challenge from Bound to Be M V P, who is coming off a resounding 5 1/2-length victory in a five-furlong invitational handicap at Portland Meadows on March 10. His clocking of 58 seconds equaled a track record set by Pajone's Hostess in 1977. Bound to Be M V P, a 5-year-old trained by Tim McCanna, won a pair of stakes at Hastings Park as a 2-year-old, and he was an allowance winner at Hastings last winter. Joe Crispin will ride.

Also a threat is Wasserman, who won last season's $45,000 Governor's Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs before running third in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. Wasserman will be making his first start of the year after training steadily this spring at Golden Gate.