05/04/2007 12:00AM

Starbird Road faces a test in Seattle


AUBURN, Wash. - Call it the great face-off.

The Great Face, fresh from a record-equaling performance on opening night, will test his unquestioned speed against the undoubted class of Starbird Road in Sunday's $45,000 Seattle Handicap.

The Seattle, which will be contested over six furlongs, has drawn a field of nine older sprinters.

Starbird Road, a 6-year-old son of Count the Time from the barn of trainer Sharon Ross, scored his initial stakes victory in last year's renewal of the Seattle Handicap. He followed that win with a fourth-place finish in the FSN Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, then ran off consecutive scores in a six-furlong allowance, the 6 1/2-furlong Governor's Handicap, the six-furlong Chinook Pass Handicap, and a five-furlong allowance. He set a track record in his Chinook Pass win, sizzling the six furlongs in 1:07.40, and his record of 5 wins from 6 starts earned him recognition as the meet's best sprinter.

Starbird Road, who will be making his seasonal debut under regular rider Debbie Hoonan-Trujillo at 121 pounds, has a formidable new challenger in The Great Face. After being sidelined for most of his 4-year-old season with breathing and hoof problems, The Great Face, a 5-year-old trained by Tom Wenzel, returned to action in a $50,000 optional claiming test on April 20 and ran the race of his life. Going to the front at the start, The Great Face widened his lead at every pole and won off by 5 1/4 lengths after 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.20. That clocking equaled a North American dirt record he now shares with three others, including local star Willie the Cat. That horse earned his piece of the record on opening night here in 2004, and he followed the big win with a victory in the Seattle Handicap.

The Great Face will again be ridden by Juan Gutierrez, who has been up for all of his starts, at 118 pounds.

Lying in the weeds and hoping to ambush the favorites is Westsideclyde, who will be making his stakes debut after winning 5 of his 7 starts here last season. Westsideclyde, a 5-year-old son of Old Topper who is trained by Craig Roberts, began his 2006 campaign with a win over $10,000 maidens, but ended up winning three allowance races and running six furlongs in 1:08 and 1:08.20 in consecutive outings. Westsideclyde will be making his seasonal bow under Ricky Frazier at 117 pounds.