07/22/2004 11:00PM

'Warlock' improves for Gillihan

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AUBURN, Wash. - Highweights Demon Warlock and Gratitude Attack will square off as the likely co-favorites in Sunday's $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap at nine furlongs.

Demon Warlock and Gratitude Attack, both of whom are assigned 120 pounds, will head a field of nine older runners in the Mt. Rainier, which is a key prep for the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 22.

Demon Warlock, a 4-year-old son of Demons Begone, is coming off a hard-earned head victory over Poker Brad in the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap on June 20. That was the first stakes win for Demon Warlock, who has improved greatly since being claimed for $25,000 by trainer Terry Gillihan out of a winning effort at Golden Gate on May 3. Demon Warlock, who is owned by the partnership of Tim and Allen Floyd and Mike Nist, has since won three of five starts while ascending to the stakes ranks. He will break from post 5 under Adalberto Lopez, who was up for his victory in the Budweiser Emerald.

Gratitude Attack was recently purchased privately by Hastings Park-based trainer Steve Bryant on behalf of owner Ross McLeod, but he will be saddled on Sunday by local trainer Grant Forster. Gratitude Attack, a 4-year-old by Hazaam from the Wavering Monarch matron Dizzy Duchess, has won eight of his 23 career starts, including impressive wins against allowance company at Monmouth Park in his last two outings. In those wins, which came at a mile and 1 1/16 miles, Gratitude Attack defeated Jarf by 5 3/4 lengths and Presidentialaffair by 4 1/2 lengths. Jarf, an earner of $488,475, came back to run fourth to Presidentialaffair in Monmouth's July 5 Skip Away Handicap, which was won in a track-record 1:38.80, for one mile and 70 yards. Gratitude Attack drew the rail post for his Northwest debut, and he will be ridden by Ben Russell.

The highweights will be challenged by last year's Mt. Rainier winner, Poker Brad, who gets in at 118 pounds with regular rider Ricky Frazier up. Poker Brad lost a tight photo-finish after dueling the length of the stretch with Demon Warlock in the Budweiser Emerald. He came back to run a disappointing fifth in the July 4 Independence Day Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

Briartic Gold and Metatron, the first two finishers in the Independence Day, were not entered back in the Mt. Rainier, but third-place finisher Mr. Makah will start under jockey Scott Saito at 114 pounds.