07/19/2007 12:00AM

Standoff looks sharp


SASKATOON, Saskatchewan – A competitive field of eight older horses, headed by Standoff, will line up at the end of the seven-furlong chute for the $6,000 City Centre Bingo Early Bird Handicap here at Marquis Downs on Saturday night.

Standoff has been made the 122-pound highweight off his 2 1/2-length allowance victory here July 7 at this distance. Prior to that outing, Standoff crossed the wire first in the Early's Farm and Garden Handicap only to be disqualified after bearing in during the first turn. In both those races Standoff was able to stalk the leaders from fifth before sweeping past in midstretch.

Sand Rush has ruled the roost here for the past two years and was Saskatchewan's horse of the year in 2006. He has an enviable local record of 9 wins and 4 seconds from 13 starts.

After having won the first two allowance races of the meet, Sand Rush could only finish third, placed second via disqualification, in the Early's. Sand Rush, as in the Early's, led to midstretch in the last allowance affair only to weaken late and finish behind Standoff.

Tough Topic was the beneficiary when Standoff was disqualified from the Early's, moving into the win position at odds of almost 17-1. But in the last allowance race, Tough Topic showed little and finished eighth.

Bethune makes just his second start of his 4-year-old campaign and should improve off his fifth-place finish on July 7 versus this same company. A three-time winner of $50,992 last year in Alberta against allowance and upper-claiming foes, Bethune stalked the pace only to falter late and be beaten by 7 1/4 lengths.

A return to the form Bethune showed last year will make him very tough to beat, and a bullet five-furlong work in 1:01.60 on July 14 may indicate his readiness.