06/15/2009 11:00PM

Yacht Spotter not just a turf specialist

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AUBURN, Wash. - What's Yacht Spotter, one of the nation's best turf horses, doing at Emerald Downs? There's no grass for him to run on - the turf course on the original blueprints was scratched, a cost-cutting casualty back in 1996.

But Yacht Spotter is a front-running demon around two turns, and trainer Frank Lucarelli figures his 5-year-old gelding can make a smooth transition to dirt and become a leading contender for the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile, now less than two months away.

With the Mile in mind, Lucarelli shipped Yacht Spotter from Golden Gate Fields and nominated him to Sunday's one-mile, $50,000 Emerald Handicap. If Yacht Spotter doesn't start Sunday, Lucarelli said he would run next in the 1 1/8-mile Mount Rainier Handicap on July 26, three weeks before the Mile.

Yacht Spotter scarcely hinted at such potential when he lost his first six starts at Emerald in 2007. He was available to be claimed for $12,500 out of a dirt route at Bay Meadows in April 2008; no one took him, and that race signaled the start of his turnaround for owner Ivor Jones. Yacht Spotter won by a head at 21-1, finished second in a $20,000 turf route in his next start, and has been climbing the ladder ever since.

Yacht Spotter has been particularly sharp in 2009. He finished second in the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile on April 25, setting the pace before yielding to the winner, Mr Napper Tandy, in the final strides. In his most recent outing, the Golden Gate Turf Handicap at a daunting 1 3/8 miles, he gave way grudgingly in the final 100 yards to finish third.

"His last couple of races, those were great efforts," Lucarelli said. "Those were Grade 1 horses. In the last one, he ran really well considering the distance. The winner, Spring House, is a Grade 1, Grade 2 horse who was locked and loaded the whole way. And in his prior race, he beat some darn good horses in there."

Now Yacht Spotter returns to Emerald Downs, lured by a $300,000 carrot despite the absence of a turf course. He has won 5 of 12 grass starts and is 2 for 10 on dirt.

"He has run awfully well on the turf, but I don't believe he's just a turf horse," Lucarelli said. "I'm not convinced he can't run on dirt. He's a much more confident, mature horse now."

Chambers tries to revive Z Humor

Z Humor has competed at 11 racetracks during his peripatetic 17-race career. The 4-year-old Z Humor can make it an even dozen if he starts as scheduled Sunday in the Emerald Handicap.

Bred in Kentucky and owned by the powerful Zayat Stables, Z Humor has earned $658,705 in rather unorthodox fashion. He has only two career victories and hasn't visited the winner's circle since he won the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot as a juvenile.

Badly beaten by Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Z Humor bounced around the East Coast last year before coming west in February. After three off-the-board efforts in Southern California, trainer Mike Mitchell sent him to Mike Chambers in May, with the Longacres Mile a tentative objective.

"I don't know a heck of a lot about him, but he's been training well," Chambers said last weekend. "He's like a lot of horses; he's been off form a little bit, so we'll try to get him rolling. We'll have to see if the competition is a little softer up here."

Chambers added another handicap horse recently when Chhaya Dance returned to training after a seven-month freshening. The 5-year-old Chhaya Dance won the $70,000 Mount Rainier Handicap at nine furlongs last June but has started just once since, finishing a distant eighth in a six-furlong stakes race at Turf Paradise in November.

"He had been in training for a couple of years, so we gave him some time," Chambers said. "He breezed for the first time Sunday. We don't have any plan for him yet. We'll have to see how he progresses."

Chambers also lost one of his old reliables when Nationhood, a two-time stakes winner here last summer, was taken out of training and retired. A 7-year-old by Cherokee Run from the Danzig mare Elhasna, Nationhood won 8 of 22 career starts and $181,820.

Clair Annette hits a roadblock

Clair Annette, whose six-race unbeaten streak was snapped June 7 in the Washington State Legislators Handicap, underwent surgery last week to repair an entrapped epiglottis, putting her summer plans on hold.

A rising star in the local filly and mare division, Clair Annette scored a convincing victory in the May 17 Hastings Park Handicap, running six furlongs in 1:08.60, but finished fourth in the Washington State Legislators after being used up in a speed duel with 2-5 favorite High Resolve. Trainer Connie Bouslaugh sensed something was amiss after watching Clair Annette struggle in the final furlong.

"We decided to scope her after the race," Bouslaugh said. "It looked like someone dropped an egg down her throat. She bled a little, too."

Bouslaugh said the one-mile King County Handicap on July 4 was the plan for Clair Annette, "but we may have to give her a little more time to recoup."