07/28/2010 3:48PM

Trainer title has familiar competitors at Emerald

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AUBURN, Wash. – The training title is very much up for grabs as Emerald Downs enters the final two months of its 89-day meeting. Vann Belvoir began the week with 39 victories, one ahead of Frank Lucarelli and Tim McCanna, and those three are poised to duke it out over the final 33 days.

Belvoir, the 1996 riding champion at Emerald, has never won a full-season training title here, and his barn has been depleted in recent weeks, an offshoot of his plan to set up a racing operation in the Midwest. Belvoir, 36, was assigned 26 stalls at Remington Park in Oklahoma, which begins its 67-day meeting Aug. 19. That would seem to make him a longshot to capture the Emerald title this summer.

Lucarelli and McCanna have been here many times before. Lucarelli has captured three Emerald titles, most recently in 2006, and McCanna has won nine, including the past three. Between them, they have accounted for 12 of the 14 titles since Emerald Downs opened in 1996. Larry Ross won the inaugural title, and Jim Penney edged McCanna and Lucarelli in 1998.

Lucarelli had won with 24 percent of his starters through last Sunday. McCanna was hitting at a 19-percent clip, but with 36 more starters than Lucarelli. McCanna topped the earnings list with $381,348, and Lucarelli was third, followed by Doris Harwood and Belvoir.

Lucarelli, 53, said he doesn’t spend a lot of time strategizing to win training titles.

“I play it down some, because it’s not the most important thing to me, but I’d be silly to say I don’t care about it. I do care,” he said. “It’s always fun to win. It’s a competitive deal, and I’d certainly like to beat those guys. But I’m not going to sacrifice a good horse for a price to get a win, and I’m not going to do anything out of the ordinary with my training to make it happen.”

McCanna, 48, began the meeting slowly but has surged to within one victory of the lead. He saddled three winners last Sunday and has three good chances Friday, with recent winners Eloika Lake in the first race, Marishek in the fifth, and Cougar Guy in the sixth.

McCanna said winning the title is a yearly motivator.

“If you’re not motivated to win, you shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “It depends on how the races fill the rest of the meeting, but I always like my chances.”