06/02/2005 11:00PM

Stuck inside, Top Penny must get out fast

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AUBURN, Wash. - Horsemen dread drawing the rail post, as is evident every year when they select their posts for the Triple Crown races. What is not so obvious to fans is why they dislike it so.

At most tracks and for most distances, the inside post accounts for more than its share of winners. In sprints at the current Emerald Downs meeting, for instance, 17 percent of the horses breaking from the inside have returned as winners - the best winning percentage of any post.

When the rail post causes trouble, however, it tends to be serious trouble. A case in point is Top Penny's trip in the May 8 Hastings Park Handicap for older fillies and mares at six furlongs. Top Penny, who was favored at 2-1, was almost immediately caught in a box along the inside, and she never got clear until well into the stretch. By that time it was not only too late, she had lost interest in running and finished a well-beaten sixth to Marva Jean.

"It was just what I was afraid of," said trainer Doug Driever. "There was nothing very dramatic that happened, but she was pinned down on the rail, eating a lot of dirt and receiving a lot of pressure, and she couldn't get comfortable. Then the horse in front of her started dying, and she had to be steadied on the turn to avoid that one's heels. She just never got a chance to run her race, and she was fuming when she got back to the barn."

Top Penny will try again in Sunday's Washington State Legislators' Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. Driever was dearly hoping she would draw toward the outside, which would keep all of her tactical options open. Although she drew post 2, Driever has a plan.

"Last time was my fault, because I told the rider to let the speed horses clear her," Driever said. "This time I will tell him to send her. She has speed and she is plenty fit, so I would rather take my chances on the lead than risk another trip like she had last time."

Marva Jean fast, but can she last?

Marva Jean will be shooting for her third straight win in Sunday's stakes, having led throughout in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance on April 16 before winning the Hastings Park with another front-running effort. Marva Jean prepped for Sunday's assignment with a sizzling three furlongs in 33.20 seconds May 25, then came back with another three furlongs in 34.20 on Wednesday.

"That was as slow as we could get her to go," said trainer Frank Lucarelli. "She is a very fast horse for a short distance. It's just a question of when she uses her speed. Last year we tried to get her to use it at the end of her races. This year I decided to let her roll early in her first race, and that set the tone for her campaign. She is rateable, but only if you fight her for a couple of races. Once you let her roll, that's all she wants to do."

Rider Mick Ruis did manage to get Marva Jean to wait almost a quarter-mile before cutting her loose in the Hastings Park, however, and Lucarelli hopes the rider can persuade her to wait a little longer on Sunday.

"We've got to get her to go 6 1/2 furlongs this time, and the less speed she uses early, the more she will have late," said the trainer. "The key will be getting her to relax, whether she is on the lead or not. We have to save something for the end, because I know Sariano will be coming at us."

Sariano needs hot pace

The 4-year-old Sariano trained by Steve Bullock, won last year's 6 1/2-furlong Federal Way Handicap after finishing a fast-closing third in her 3-year-old debut. She began her current campaign with a fast-finishing second to Marva Jean in the Hastings Park, and Bullock hopes she will take a similar step forward on Sunday.

"We're following the same schedule with her this year, so hopefully we'll get the same result," said Bullock. "She's ready. She worked six furlongs in 1:11 last week, and she really looked sharp. She has no early speed, though, so she is always going to be at the mercy of the pace. I just hope she has something to run at."

Even if the pace is moderate, Bullock won't be out of options. He is also sending out Star Amethyst, a 4-year-old daughter of Slewdledo who is coming off a sharp allowance win at six furlongs.

"She has won three of her last five sprints, and she has a lot more tactical speed than Sariano," said Bullock. "She still needs to prove she is stakes quality, but I think she deserves a shot."

* The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association will sponsor a seminar for prospective new owners at Emerald Downs next Saturday. The seminar, which begins at 8:30 a.m., will feature talks by trainer Junior Coffey and bloodstock agent Dana Halvorson. A day at the races and lunch is included in the registration fee, which is $75 or $50 for TOBA members. For more information and reservations, call (859) 276-2291 or (888) 606-TOBA, or sign up online at www.toba.org.