04/23/2008 12:00AM

Wasserman wheeling back soon off victory

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Howard Belvoir said that Wasserman, who beat a stakes-quality field in the opening-night allowance feature last Friday at Emerald Downs, will wheel right back in the $50,000 Seattle Handicap at six furlongs on May 4.

"It's a little quicker back than I might have wanted, but he is a sound horse and he is very fit," Belvoir said. "I don't think it will take him long to bounce back from the race he ran on Friday."

Belvoir said he began legging Wasserman up for his current campaign the first of the year at Golden Gate.

"He had 30 days on the horses who started back when Emerald opened for training on February 1st, and that was a big advantage," he said. "Some of the horses in that race, including the other one I entered, Courting Seattle, still had their winter coats."

Wasserman, a 6-year-old son of Cahill Road, made use of his conditioning edge on opening night. He wore down Bound to Be M V P near the wire to win by a half-length under Jennifer Whitaker in 1:02.20 for 5 1/2 furlongs. It was the fifth win from 32 starts for Wasserman, who has earned more than $208,221.

"He has always been a nice horse, and he is probably the toughest horse in my barn," said Belvoir. "The thing that sets him apart from some of the other good horses I have trained is his soundness, though.

"Maybe it's because he never raced at 2, which was just the result of circumstances. I think he would have been a good 2-year-old, but I didn't have enough stalls for all of my 2-year-olds that year. I owned Wasserman myself, so he was the first to get kicked out."

A Touch of Malice fast but fragile

Belvoir also won Sunday's feature, a $25,000 claiming race at 5 1/2 furlongs, with A Touch of Malice. It was the third straight year in which the 4-year-old A Touch of Malice had won his season debut. Like Wasserman, he was timed in 1:02.20. Still, Belvoir said he had no thought of running A Touch of Malice in the Seattle.

"He is sort of the opposite of Wasserman in terms of soundness," Belvoir said. "He is a sway-backed horse with bad conformation and a terrible way of going. He is fast, and he has as much heart as any horse I have ever trained, but it is hard to keep him sound. With that horse, I feel an obligation not to overmatch him. He might try so hard that he would hurt himself."

Belvoir, who has raced at Emerald Downs every year since it opened, has filled his allotted 37 stalls on the grounds. He also left 19 horses in Northern California with assistant Hugo Mejia, and he has more on the farm. He said he owns at least a share of most of the horses he trains.

"Right now I own all or part of 71 horses," he said. "I'm totally invested in this game, so I need to win races. I'm glad I'm off to a good start."

Baze victory generates applause

Jockey Gary Baze received a warm welcome when he returned to the winner's circle at Emerald Downs aboard Brainstorm on Saturday, and again with Tickettothestars on Sunday.

Baze, who has won more races in Washington than any other rider, had not ridden at Emerald since 2005. He severely fractured a leg in a training accident at Turf Paradise early in 2006, and he spent last year serving as Emerald's clerk of scales.

Baze said he began reducing weight in October, started getting on horses in January, and resumed riding in February at Turf Paradise. The rehab was a lot to endure for a 52-year-old, but Baze felt it was all worthwhile after winning on Saturday.

"There is nothing like the feeling you get when you win a race," he said. "That's why I'm back."

Baze's win on Sunday was the 3,390th of a career that began in 1973, but was often interrupted by injuries and retirements. He served as a jockey agent one year at Longacres, and he was the West Coast regional manager of the Jockeys' Guild from 1996 through 1999. Still, he managed to win a record 1,538 races at Longacres, including a record five Longacres Miles, and six riding titles. He also won 100 stakes at Longacres, and he has won 26 stakes at Emerald Downs despite riding at the track for only 6 of its 12 seasons. He was voted into the inaugural class of the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2003.

Baze's reputation among Northwest racing fans and horsemen has long been such that his presence on a horse can lend a special air of excitement. Veteran owner Terry Detz recently recalled getting Baze to ride his mare June n' January at Portland Meadows in March 1982.

"I was so pumped up that when I went to give Gary a leg up, I tossed him clear over the horse," said Detz. "I was never so embarrassed in my life."

Baze laughed when reminded of the incident, and he said Detz needn't feel bad.

"That has actually happened to me quite a few times over the years," said Baze. "Sometimes I suspected them of doing it on purpose."

Mr Makah near a start

Mr Makah worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 under Baze on Tuesday morning, and trainer Bonnie Jenne said he is nearing a race.

"He seems to be doing really well, and I'm excited about running him," said Jenne. "It has been a long time."

Mr Makah, an 8-year-old son of Majesterian, won the Budweiser-Emerald Handicap and the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic here in 2005. He raced only once before injuring a suspensory ligament in 2006, and he raced only three times last year before re-injuring the suspensory in a training accident.

"We lost some good years with him, but he still acts like he wants to run," said Jenne. "I'm looking to start him back in a sprint this year, then we'll stretch him out to his better distances. I don't have any races picked out for him yet."