08/16/2004 11:00PM

Trainer race heats up

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AUBURN, Wash. - With 20 days of the 90-day meeting remaining, the race for leading trainer is the tightest since 1998, when Jim Penney broke a tie with Tim McCanna by sending out Kitty's Link to win the Washington Championship on the final day of the meet.

McCanna, who has won five Emerald training championships, including the last four, tops the standings with 40 wins. Frank Lucarelli, who won the title in 1999, is just two wins back at 38. Penney has 37 wins, and Sharon Ross, who won the first Emerald training title in 1996, has 33.

The three pursuers all concede favorite status to McCanna, if only because he has won the title so often in the past. McCanna agrees, up to a point.

"I like my chances if somebody else doesn't get hot, but they are all eligible to get hot," he said. "It looks to me like they're all loaded."

McCanna's barn was loaded mainly with inexperience when the meeting began, as he had no fewer than 60 horses who had never started. Those horses have come along, however, and the trainer said he feels he has a better-than-usual group to finish the meeting. He also has an ace in the hole.

"I'm not going anywhere after this meeting," he said. "I think the others in this race are all going to run at least some of their horses someplace else, but I'm going to turn all of mine out. I don't have to save anything for later, so I can run the heck out of them until the meeting ends."

Outsiders are sometimes surprised to learn that there isn't much more to leading trainer honors than bragging rights, and they wonder why horsemen care about the title. It has to do with the nature of the sport, and of the people who play it.

"I found out I cared about it the year I finished fifth," said McCanna. "I didn't like that much. This game is all about winning, and we're all competitive people. It's fun to be in a tight race for the training title, and it makes for good racing when the top barns are entering their horses aggressively. I'm glad to be a part of it."

That's not to say that McCanna wouldn't trade a training title for a Longacres Mile win, but this year he may be able to have both. The trainer's hopes for the Mile reside in Poker Brad, who finished second in last year's renewal and is coming off his second straight victory in the nine-furlong Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"He's doing really well," said McCanna. "He worked a half-mile last week in 45.40, and he did it very easy. I'll work him once more, then pray for rain. He's an outstanding mudder."

McCanna noted that Poker Brad came from far back to get second to Sky Jack in last year's Mile.

"I hope he'll lay a lot closer this year," he said. "It's tough to win that race from very far back."

In the eight renewals of the Mile run at Emerald Downs, no horse has come from farther back than third to win.

Forster winners have big futures

Trainer Grant Forster saddled three winners Saturday, including two extremely promising young horses.

One is No Giveaway, a 3-year-old full brother to last year's horse of the meeting, Youcan'ttakeme. He won a 6 1/2-furlong allowance by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:15.20, giving him two wins from three starts.

"He is a very talented horse, but we got started with him too late to make the Emerald Derby," said Forster. "We're going to point him toward the mile stakes on Washington Cup Day [the $40,000 Trooper Seven Stakes on Sept. 19]. Hopefully, we'll get a mile allowance race for him before then."

Later on Saturday, the Forster-trained A Classic Life, a 2-year-old daughter of Sky Classic, posted her second impressive win in two starts. A Classic Life came from sixth to win drawing away by four lengths in 1.16.80 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

"She's our next Youcan'ttakeme," said Forster. "She's not as brilliant as Youcan'ttakeme, but we think she can be just as good. She is just a very impressive individual, and she is progressing quickly."

Forster said A Classic Life will go next in the $50,000 Barbara Shinpoch Stakes at a mile on Aug. 28. If she continues to impress, she will either go against the boys in the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles here on Sept. 19, or in the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie at a mile on the same day at Arlington Park.

"I think we'd prefer the race at Arlington Park because it would tell us more about where she stands in her division, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself," said Forster. "First she has to win the Barbara Shinpoch."