06/22/2010 11:00PM

Starbird Road eyes elusive win at Emerald


AUBURN, Wash. - A victory by Starbird Road on Friday at Emerald Downs would be a popular one. The track's former six-furlong record holder is 0 for 6 over the past 14 months since returning from a two-year injury absence, and at age 9, he's running out of chances for a last hurrah.

He'll get another shot Friday in the feature race, a $17,500 claimer at six furlongs. The eight-race program begins at 6 p.m. Pacific and the feature is the seventh event on the card.

Starbird Road, who ran six furlongs in 1:07.40 in the 2006 Chinook Pass Stakes, nearly broke his three-plus-year winless streak in his last start. The Larry Ross-trained runner finished a fast-closing third in a $15,000 claimer, a half-length behind the winner, Strawberry Topper, after being forced to steady and lose ground on the backstretch.

Starbird Road generally does his best running from just off the pace. Breaking from the post 1 under Emerald's leading rider, Ricky Frazier, he figures to assume a striking position behind a group of front-runners that includes Carry on John, Get You, Olympic Lights, and probable wagering favorite Ernie Owl. Starbird Road stands to benefit if some of those horses hook up early.

Ernie Owl will be a formidable challenger. He has won four consecutive starts since moving to trainer Mike Chambers's barn last winter. A 5-year-old who began his racing career in England, Ernie Owl captured a pair of conditioned $10,000 claiming sprints at Turf Paradise this spring, won an open $10,000 claimer in his Emerald Downs debut May 7, and blitzed a strong field of $15,000 claimers in his last start May 28. He set fractions in that race of 21.60 seconds, 44.60, and 55.20 before pulling away in the stretch to complete six furlongs in 1:07.20, just .20 shy of the track record shared by Noosa Beach and Atta Boy Roy. Anne Von Rosen has the riding assignment.

After Ernie Owl, the betting figures to spread out among the other seven horses. Olympic Lights, a four-time winner at Emerald Downs last summer, could emerge as the second favorite. He finished a close fifth after setting the pace in a first-level allowance race May 28 in his first start following an eight-month layoff. Troy Stillwell will ride for trainer Charles Essex.

Others in the field are Strawberry Topper, seeking his third victory at the meeting, Immigration, and Honour the West.