06/30/2001 12:00AM

U.S. team takes lead in challenge


AUBURN, Wash. - The United states team built a solid lead in Friday's first leg of the inaugural Can-Am Jockey Challenge, which pits four top riders from Emerald Downs and four from Hastings Park against each other as teams and as individuals.

Through the first three races of the six-race competition, run at Emerald Downs on Friday, the Emerald team held a 72-49 1/2 point lead. The competition was scheduled to conclude at Hastings Park on Monday, July 2, with three more races.

Emerald was represented by Ben Russell, Gallyn Mitchell, Javier Matias, and Frank Gonsalves. Dave Wilson, Brian Johnson, Fernando Serna and Frank Fuentes carried the banner for Hastings. Scoring awarded 12 points for a win, then 10, 7, 5, 3, 2, 1 and 1/2 points for second through eighth.

Russell got the Emerald team off to a fast start with a front-running win aboard Magic Retribution in the third race. It was Russell's third straight win of the evening, and he went on to win the eighth race to increase his lead in the jockeys' standings at Emerald.

The Emerald team looked like they were going to run away with the competition. They ran first and second in the third race, then one-two-three in the fifth with Mitchell on the winner, May Be a Superbuzz.

The Hastings team came back strong in the seventh race, with Serna winning with the favorite, Our C.C., and Brian Johnson second aboard Ridgegate.

The individual leader through the first three races was Matias with 27 points. Russell and Johnson were tied for second with 20 points.

- additional reporting by Randy Goulding