09/16/2004 11:00PM

Top two females in rubber match

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AUBURN, Wash. - Divisional honors will be on the line when Aunt Sophie and Cascade Corona meet for the fifth time in Sunday's $50,000 Belle Roberts Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. The Belle Roberts is one of eight stakes on Sunday, Washington Cup Day.

Aunt Sophie won the first meeting, when she captured the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Stakes with Cascade Corona finishing a troubled fifth after her rein broke. Cascade Corona then won the one-mile King County Handicap and the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap, with Aunt Sophie closing for third in both races. Aunt Sophie turned the tables on Cascade Corona in the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff on Longacres Mile Day, however, finishing two lengths clear of the second-place Cascade Corona.

The victory in the Distaff, the meet's top race for fillies and mares, gave Aunt Sophie the lead in the race for divisional honors, but the mare's owner and trainer, the veterinarian Charles Barth, knows the lead would change with a loss to Cascade Corona on Sunday.

"It would be hard not to vote for whoever wins three out of the five races," Barth said. "But what do they do if those two horses finish third and fourth?"

Barth hopes Aunt Sophie will avoid all ambiguity by winning the Belle Roberts, and he sees no reason why she shouldn't.

"She came out of her last race real good, and everything has gone smoothly since then," he said. "She likes this distance and a wet track would probably help her, so all she has to do is run her race."

Cascade Corona's connections feel Aunt Sophie will be hard-pressed to beat their filly again.

"By the time they ran the Distaff on Mile Day, the track was really favoring deep closers," said Kay Cooper, assistant to trainer Jim Penney. "We had to alter Cascade Corona's style and bring her from off the pace. She adapted well and she ran a good race, but that's not really her best game. We're just hoping she gets a fair track so she can show what she can do."

Seattles Best Joe takes safer route

Several horsemen had to make tough decisions regarding which of Sunday's eight stakes to enter, but few were more difficult than the choice trainer Howard Belvoir had to make regarding Seattles Best Joe, whom he owns in partnership with Dan Corby and Harley Hoppe.

Seattles Best Joe, a stretch-running son of Personable Joe, won the six-furlong Emerald Express before finishing a troubled fourth in the one-mile WTBA Lads. He could have come back in either the $40,000 Captain Condo Stakes at six furlongs or the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles, but his owners would have had to pay a $10,000 supplemental fee to make him eligible for the Gottstein.

"That's why he's going in the Captain Condo," said Belvoir. "I really think he might have been able to win the Futurity with a good trip, but it's just too risky to put up $10,000 without really knowing you have the best horse at the distance. He is proven at six furlongs, so it makes more sense to run him in the Captain Condo. It's safer and less expensive."

Seattles Best Joe will be the most accomplished runner in the Captain Condo, but he might not be favored. That role could go to Fit and Tough, who hung up the fastest 5 1/2-furlong clocking ever recorded by a juvenile at Emerald Downs, when he won his debut by more than nine lengths over $32,000 maidens in 1:02.60.

"He showed more quickness than I anticipated, but I always felt he was an exceptional colt," said trainer Grant Forster. "It will be interesting to see how good he really is. The Captain Condo should be the perfect spot to find out."

Beware of Alfurune

The $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic is being billed as a rematch between Demons Warlock and Mr. Makah, the second and third finishers in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile, and indeed it is.

It might be unwise to overlook Alfurune, however. Alfurune was one of the top handicap horses on the grounds last year, when he won the Independence Day Handicap at the same 1 1/16-mile distance, and he recently signaled a return to form with a victory in the Longacres Mile Consolation on Aug. 22.

"He is just now rounding into shape," said trainer Diane Garrison. "He was off five months, and he was slow coming back around, but he has been his old self since he won the Mile Consolation. It was important to get a win into him so he could get his confidence back. It really did him a world of good, and I'm looking for him to run another strong race on Sunday."

Flamethrowintexan Hastings-bound

Flamethrowintexan, who ran second to My Creed in the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby on Sept. 6, was scheduled to ship to Hastings on Saturday to begin preparations for the $250,000 British Columbia Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 26. Bryson Cooper, son-in-law of trainer Jim Penney, will accompany Flamethrowintexan to Vancouver and will work him over the track on Monday morning.

Flamethrowintexan, who had a five-race win streak snapped in the Emerald Derby, is assured of a spot in the B.C. Derby gate. The same is not true of three others who ran in the Emerald Derby. Number Juan, Never Surrender, and Soccer Dan rank 18th through 20th in earnings among the 26 B.C. Derby nominees and will need multiple defections in order to qualify for the field of 12.