06/08/2004 12:00AM

This time, Aunt Sophie runs 'em down


AUBURN, Wash. - Most fans thought Sunday's Washington State Legislators Stakes would be a rerun of the May 9 Hastings Park Handicap, which was contested at the same 6 1/2 furlongs, and in one respect they were right.

As was the case in the Hastings Park, Aunt Sophie closed with a rush Sunday and the decision came down to a tight photo. In the Hastings Park, the photo resulted in a second for Aunt Sophie behind Lasting Code, who was 2 1/4 lengths clear. On Sunday, however, the result was a win for Aunt Sophie over Marva Jean, and Lasting Code, the 3-5 favorite, was a length back in third.

Lasting Code looked as though she might reprise her Hastings Park victory when she loomed up to challenge the pacesetting Princess Forever in the upper stretch, but Lasting Code lugged in to brush with that rival and never regained her momentum. Some speculated that Lasting Code might have been distracted by Princess Forever's flapping right rein, which had broken near the three-eighths pole.

If so, then Lasting Code was the third horse affected by that mishap. It certainly didn't help Princess Forever, though jockey Scott Saito persevered valiantly, and it virtually eliminated Cascade Corona. Princess Forever veered in sharply when her rein broke, bouncing Cascade Corona off the rail and causing jockey Gallyn Mitchell to take up sharply on her. Cascade Corona came back to finish fifth, beaten less than three lengths, and she was moved up to fourth when Princess Forever was disqualified.

The troubled trips didn't diminish the luster of Aunt Sophie's victory. Under a perfectly timed ride by Jose Rivera Jr., who scored his first stakes win, Aunt Sophie came from 8 1/2 lengths back after a half-mile in 44.20 seconds to hit the wire first in 1:15.60. She smoked the final 2 1/2 furlongs in a remarkable 28.70.

Aunt Sophie's owner and trainer, Charles Barth, said he has never measured her stride, "but it has got to be the biggest one in this race, because she just came flying," he said. "She has never had speed out of the gate, but she can sure finish."

A 6-year-old daughter of Altazarr and Sister Eunice, Aunt Sophie used her stretch kick to win this track's Paragon Handicap in 2001 and also won a pair of route stakes in northern California last year. When her 2003 accomplishments failed to net her recognition as Washington's top older filly or mare, Barth decided to bring Aunt Sophie back to Emerald.

"I said I guess we're going to have to win up here at Emerald for her to be the best filly or mare bred in Washington," Barth said. "And before she quits I would like her to get that award."

Barth takes special pride in Aunt Sophie. Not only does he own and train her, he bred and raised her as well. Barth also bred, raised, and raced Aunt Sophie's mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.

"She's fourth generation," Barth said. "That family has given me a lot of useful runners, but she is the best."

Tilly Wagon an Emerald veteran

Tilly Wagon made his seasonal debut in Sunday's nightcap, running second in the mile race for $3,200 claimers. With that race, he became the only horse who has raced at every one of Emerald's nine summer meetings.

Tilly Wagon, an 11-year-old who races for Mike Alhadeff's Once Stable, has been trained throughout his career by Howard Belvoir.

"He was claimed away once, but we claimed him back in his next start," said Belvoir. "He's kind of a pet, and we've always kept him in our number one stall."

Tilly Wagon has won 9 of 69 career starts, including 8 of 63 starts at Emerald. Belvoir attributes Tilly Wagon's longevity to having been turned out every winter since he began racing in 1996.

Another Belvoir trainee, the 9-year-old Star Lake Pete, has raced at Emerald every year since 1997. That feat has been matched by Taz's Treasure, a 10-year-old, and Sanskrit, an 11-year-old.

Meeking-Baze connection fires

Trainer Bob Meeking seems to be on to something. For last Friday's feature, Meeking removed the blinkers from Karis Makaw and named Gary Baze to ride. Karis Makaw, a 3-year-old filly who had been showing speed but had not been finishing, dropped back to last and then came home smoking, winning by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:08.60 for six furlongs.

In Saturday's nightcap, Meeking again named Baze, whom he jokingly called "the human anchor," to ride the faint-hearted front-runner Man Well. Man Well trailed early, then inhaled his rivals in the stretch and drawing away to score by 5 1/4 lengths.

* Melissa Peery has ridden only 17 races at this meeting, but she won for the third time aboard 30-1 shot Sly Schemes in Sunday's finale and now sports an average win payoff of $31.80. A $2 win bet on each of Peery's mounts would have returned a profit of $61.40.

* Canadian sensation Regal Red heads a list of 12 3-year-year old fillies nominated for Sunday's $50,000 Irish Day Handicap at a mile. Regal Red, a daughter of On Target and Sophie J., has won her last three outings by a combined margin of almost 20 lengths. Regal Red comes off a 4 1/4 length victory in the 6 1/2-furlong Supernatural Handicap, in which she was favored at 1-9.