04/14/2004 12:00AM

Willie the Cat ushers in new season


AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs will launch its ninth season on Friday with an eight-race card featuring a pair of attractive allowance sprints.

Highlights of the meeting include the 69th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 22 and the second annual Washington Cup Day, with five stakes worth $400,000, on Sept. 19.

The opening night allowance races are a five-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds that will go as the sixth and a 5 1/2-furlong sprint for older horses that will go as the seventh.

That's No Bull heads a field of six in the 3-year-old race, which is restricted to nonwinners of two races. That's No Bull, a late-running son of Beefchopper from the barn of trainer Larry Smith, won his debut here last season at the maiden $16,000 level, then ran a surprisingly strong fourth at odds of 29-1 in the six-furlong Captain Condo Stakes on Washington Cup Day, Sept. 21. He took the winter off, but resumed training here in February and boasts a long string of fast workouts, including a bullet half-mile drill in 45.80 seconds on April 10.

The allowance for older runners is restricted to horses who have not won $22,000 since Sept. 23 and will mark the return to Emerald Downs of Willie the Cat, who won his first three starts here as a 3-year-old in spectacular fashion. Now 5, Willie the Cat missed almost all of his 4-year-old season with a stifle problem before returning in a 5 1/2-furlong turf race against $100,000 optional claiming company at Hollywood Park in December. He finished sixth and last after being forced to take up early. Then he stumbled at the start before checking in ninth of 10 in a $50,000 optional claimer at six furlongs on March 25 at Golden Gate.

Trainer Tim McCanna hopes that Willie the Cat, who races for Ron Crockett, will be able to regain his winning stride with a clean trip on Friday.

Willie the Cat will face six rivals, including stakes winners Knightsbridge Road and Danzilation.

The 89-day meeting will run through Sept. 20, with racing Friday through Sunday until May 13, when Thursday racing will be added to the schedule. Post time is 6 p.m. on weekdays, including opening night, and 1 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Replays of each day's racing will be shown the next day at 6 a.m. on Fox Sports Net.