05/08/2007 11:00PM

Starbird Road lives up to nickname


AUBURN, Wash. - Starbird Road is named for a thoroughfare about a mile or two from Emerald Downs, but trainer Sharon Ross has always called him Star Man.

In the wake of Starbird Road's authoritative victory in last Sunday's six-furlong Seattle Handicap, his nickname seems by far the more appropriate of his two monikers. What else but a star is a horse who wins five races in a row, including a trio of stakes, to improve his career mark to 10 wins from 18 starts for $175,720 in earnings?

Most of the suspense came early on in his latest triumph. Starbird Road broke from the rail under regular rider Debbie Hoonan-Trujillo in a field of nine, and Ross worried that he would be compromised by traffic.

"I thought the easiest way for him to get beat would be to get shoved down on the rail and race blocked," she said. "I never really talked to Deb about that possibility, though. I just told her to use her own judgment. I trust her to make the right decisions."

Starbird Road, who went off as the 3-2 favorite under high weight of 121 pounds, did not break particularly sharply and was briefly sixth, about five lengths off the pace of The Great Face. He was a close fourth by the time the field hit the half-mile pole, however, and moved through along the rail to duel with Westsideclyde entering the stretch before drawing away to score by nearly two lengths in 1:08.40.

"I never have any worries going into a race on this horse," said Hoonan-Trujillo. "I know he'll do anything I ask of him."

Starbird Road, a 6-year-old son of Count the Time, races for owner Rick Beal, who claimed him as a 2-year-old for $25,000. Beal also owned Ema Bovary, whom Ross trained to a pair of local stakes wins before sending her out on the road to win important stakes from California to Florida. Will Starbird Road follow Ema Bovary's example?

"Not if I have my way," said Ross. "With Ema we didn't have any choice. She had to go where she could be tested. Star Man fits here just fine. If he can race a half a dozen times at this meeting and earn close to $100,000, like he did last year, I'll be happy. That way he can be turned out every winter, and hopefully he can be effective into his upper years. He has some quirks and he has gotten quirkier as he has grown older, but he likes it here. He likes the way his groom cares for him, he likes the way Dennis Madsen gallops him, he likes the way Deb rides him, and I think he likes me. Why change anything?"

"Besides," she added, "I don't want to let him out of my sight."

Golden Pine nearly good as new

Trainer Tom Wenzel pulled off another nice training feat here on Saturday. Wenzel, who brought The Great Face back from an extended layoff to equal the North American dirt record for 5 1/2 furlongs on opening night, did an encore with Golden Pine. Golden Pine, who had not raced since last July, returned to win last Saturday's 5 1/2-furlong optional claiming feature by a neck over Hit a Star in 1:03.40.

Golden Pine, a 5-year-old daughter of Banker's Gold, seemed to have a very bright future when she began her career as a 3-year-old in 2005. She won 3 of 4 starts that year, including a victory over the mighty Queenledo in the John and Kitty Fletcher Stakes at a mile. Saturday's outing was just her second start since that triumph, however.

"We had a chip removed from one of her knees after her 3-year-old campaign, and everything seemed to go fine," Wenzel said. "She wasn't the same when we brought her back into training last year, though. She was a little thin, and she never really looked right. We finally got her kind of ready to race in July, but she ran poorly and she suffered heat stroke after the race. She fell down a couple of times and she hurt her withers. We thought about trying to bring her back toward the end of the meeting, but we finally decided it would be best to turn her out and give her all the time she needed. We just wrote off her 4-year-old season entirely."

That decision seems to have paid off, but Wenzel isn't ready to say that Golden Pine can fulfill the promise she showed at 3.

"I think we'll just have to take it one race at a time and let her tell us what is next," said the trainer. "She hasn't been physically compromised, so it is possible that she can be a stakes contender again. On her best day I think she is close to the stakes horses here, and she did beat Queenledo as a 3-year-old. There is definitely cause for hope, but we'll just have to see how things work out."

Records broken at Portland Meadows

Portland Meadows's 75-day meeting ended last Saturday with a pair of new marks firmly entrenched in the record book.

Joe Crispin, who left to ride at Emerald after riding on fewer than 70 programs, rode 161 Thoroughbred winners to obliterate Gary Stevens's 1983 mark of 126. Crispin finished 81 wins clear of Clark Jones, who ranked second with 80 wins.

Jonathan Nance also set a record with 81 wins, 14 more than trainer Jim Fergason saddled last season. Fergason also exceeded his old mark of 67 wins, saddling 77 winners at the meet to finish second in the trainer standings.

The meet's top equine stars were Ex Mountain Cop, who won all four of his starts in the fall as a juvenile, and the 3-year-old filly Ochoco Salmon, who ran her win streak to five with a victory over male rivals in the Oregon Derby on closing day.