06/24/2003 12:00AM

Unsafe track shortens program


AUBURN, Wash. - Summer got off to a rocky start at Emerald Downs on Saturday, June 21, with bizarre weather and some unusual racetrack happenings.

Though the racing surface was rated fast through the first three races, heavy if intermittent rain, accompanied at times by thunder and lightning, began falling after the first race. Then things began to get weird.

In the second race, a maiden special weight race for 2-year-old fillies, Sariano broke so slowly and took so long to get into stride that she seemed to be hopelessly beaten. But, after the favored Mitchells Folly bolted on the turn and carried Painless out with her, Sariano rallied to win by two lengths under a persistent Juan Gutierrez.

The third race, which was for maiden 2-year-old fillies of the $16,000 variety, saw a field of 10 essentially reduced to seven when two runners were scratched after getting loose at the gate and a third, Clever's Mint, refused to break. Though declared a starter, Clever's Mint was never ridden and her backers got not a jump of run for their money.

The fourth race was relatively routine until third-place finisher Tucky Bound stumbled returning to the unsaddling area and unseated leading rider Kevin Radke, who remained motionless on the track for several minutes before getting up, apparently unhurt. So was the fifth race, until second-place finisher Snowbound's Ghost collapsed when pulling up, apparently due to exhaustion. After a time he got up and probably could have walked off, but track officials decided that if he was that tired, he deserved a ride in the horse ambulance.

By that time the riders had seen enough. They declined to continue riding, citing concerns over their own safety and the safety of their mounts, and the final five races on the card were canceled. That was doubtless a prudent decision, as the racing surface - which was never sealed - by then resembled a swamp.

It was not a decision without consequences for the track, however. Track president Ron Crockett estimated the loss of half of the card cost the track $80,000 in potential parimutuel and concession revenue, plus the cost of issuing rain checks for admissions and programs.

It was just the second time in Emerald's 7 1/2-year history that races were canceled. Lightning and wind halted the races Aug. 5, 1999.

The $50,000 King County Handicap for fillies and mares, which was scheduled to be run Saturday, has been rescheduled for Saturday, June 28.

Knightsbridge Road wins easily

The track was muddy but safe for Sunday's racing, and the doubly restricted Table Run Stakes for 3-year-olds was run as scheduled with four starters, which may have been about all that were eligible to run. To be eligible, the horse's sire had to be nominated to the NW Stallion Series in the year of his conception, and the horse himself had to be nominated to the NW Race Series as a yearling.

Fortunately, the small field included divisional leader Leather N Lace, the 7-10 favorite and apparent speed of the one-mile race, and juvenile stakes winner Knightsbridge Road, who went off at 3-2.

Under rider Kevin Radke, Knightsbridge Road attacked Leather N Lace from the beginning and those two dueled head and head through seven furlongs, before Knightsbridge Road drew away to win by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:38.80. Leather N Lace was eased up at the wire, but retained a margin of almost nine lengths over third-place finisher Army Hero.

"The only plan was not to let Leather N Lace get away too easy," Radke said. "But on the first turn I felt I'd better let him go or I'd choke the run out of him. I just let him run his race."

Considering that Knightsbridge Road dueled throughout over a tiring track in his first mile try of the year, one might suppose that the 1 1/16 miles of the Tacoma Handicap July 13 would not present a serious obstacle for him. Trainer and part-owner Debbie Van Horne, who bred Knightsbridge Road in partnership with her sister, Shonda Van Horne, is taking nothing for granted, however.

"I think the 1 1/16 miles will be a crucial test for him, and meeting open company will be a test as well," she said. "If he runs as well in the Tacoma as he did in this race, we'll know we have a Derby horse."

The $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby, the championship event for local 3-year-olds, will be run at nine furlongs Sept. 1.

* Flying Notes, named horse of the meeting after winning three stakes races here last year at 3, drilled five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.40 last Friday in preparation for his seasonal debut in the July 4 Independence Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

* Divisional leader Youcan'ttakeme will miss Sunday's Irish Day Handicap for 3-year-old fillies after suffering a soft tissue injury in her stall. Trainer Grant Forster said the injury is not serious and Youcan'ttakeme will resume training this week.

* Colterkind, the winner of last year's Governor's Handicap, underwent surgery last week on an ankle he fractured in the Budweiser Emerald Handicap June 15. Trainer Roy Lumm said the surgery was successful, but that it is uncertain whether Colterkind will race again.