07/07/2008 11:00PM

Wasserman paying the bills

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Howard Belvoir is a straight shooter. After Wasserman had won his second straight Governor's Handicap in a thrilling four-horse photo finish, Belvoir was asked if the gelding reminded him of his former star Red Eye Express. Belvoir told it like it was.

"Naw," he said. "He doesn't compare to Red Eye."

Later, at his leisure, the trainer elaborated on his feelings for Red Eye Express, who won 22 races at Longacres in the early and mid-1970s.

"Red Eye won $165,000 at a time when the stakes were worth $5,000 or $10,000," he noted. "He was a super-nice horse, and he came along early in my career. He helped to make my career."

Of course Belvoir didn't have to worry about offending the owner, or even the breeder, of Wasserman. He occupies both of those roles himself, and he made clear that his regard for Red Eye Express doesn't lessen his appreciation for what Wasserman has accomplished. Wasserman, a 6-year-old son of Cahill Road, has won 7 of 36 starts, including three stakes, for $268,471.

"And the best part is that I get to keep everything he earns, even the bonuses," Belvoir said. "I'm really very proud of him. He tries his hardest every time he goes out there, and he is a nice horse to be around. He won his first two starts, and I was offered a lot of money for him, but I turned it down and I'm glad I did. It seems like every time the payroll is due, he earns a check. At first, I had to keep him going year round to meet my payroll, but the last two years he has gotten the winter off. That has a lot to do with why he is still running so well."

Wasserman's ultimate goal this year is the Aug. 17 running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile, a race in which he ran third last year. The only remaining prep race for the Mile at Emerald Downs is the $75,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap at nine furlongs on July 27.

"It's probably too far for him, but he'll have to run in it," Belvoir said. "I can't train him into the Mile from this far out, and I don't want to ship him anywhere. Anyway the mile and an eighth might set him up pretty well for the Mile. It might build his stamina a little."

Wasserman has twice before run nine furlongs. He finished sixth to Alexandersrun in the 2005 Emerald Derby and sixth to Flamethrowintexan in the 2006 Mt. Rainier.

New style pays off for Firetrail

Firetrail probably ran the best race of her career on Independence Day, when she won the one-mile King County Handicap by four widening lengths over last year's local 3-year-old filly champion, Shampoo. She also won her previous race, which came against allowance rivals at a mile on June 8. Not coincidentally, according to trainer Junior Coffey, the former front-runner, who is owned by Charlie Dunn's Dunn Bar Ranch, came from well off the pace on both occasions.

"I told Charlie a while ago that we needed to experiment with taking her off the pace," Coffey said. "We did that in the allowance race and she finished a lot better, which was what we were hoping for. It worked again in the stakes, so it looks like we might be onto something."

Firetrail, a 4-year-old daughter of Defensive Play, finished seventh in her first two starts against older horses, both sprints, but it now appears as though she has made a successful transition from 3 to 4.

"It's important to get a couple of wins as a 4-year-old," Coffey said. "It's a pretty big jump from 3 to 4. Horses who dominate at 3 can usually make that jump, but she didn't really dominate at 3. She was a nice 3-year-old and she won a stakes, but she didn't dominate."

Next up for the fillies and mares is the $50,000 Boeing Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on July 27, followed by the $100,000 Emerald Distaff at a mile on Aug. 17. Firetrail may or may not go in both races.

"I wouldn't mind skipping a race somewhere along the line," Coffey said. "We might want to keep her going after this meeting so she can try the grass. We'll see how it all works out. It will be up to Charlie and how she is doing."

Saratoga Passage dies at 23

Saratoga Passage died Saturday from colic, said Helen Beck, who bred Saratoga Passage in partnership with her husband, Mel Beck. He was 23.

Saratoga Passage, a son of Pirateer and Loridown, retired in 1990 as the richest Washington-bred in history, with earnings of $800,212. He won the Grade 1 Norfolk on dirt for trainer Bob Leonard as a 2-year-old in 1987 and the Grade 1 Eddie Read on turf for trainer Bobby Frankel as a 4-year-old in 1989. He remains the only Washington-bred to win Grade 1 stakes on both dirt and grass.

Saratoga Passage raced for the Becks and Saratoga I Stable, a group of their Whidbey Island friends. He won 6 of 22 starts, including 2 of 5 starts at Longacres. After his retirement from racing, Saratoga Passage spent several years as a dressage horse before returning to the Becks' farm on Whidbey Island in 2005.