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Kruger Park ready for a winner's circle picture | Horse Racing

In March 2009, trainer Carlos Moreno decided to take a chance. So, Moreno put in a $50,000 claim on a 5-year-old gray gelding by the name of Kruger Park and immediately threw him in with the best handicap runners in the northwest.

More than a year later, Kruger Park (21-7-4-3-$219,290), who is owned by Moreno Racing Stables LLC, has notched four stakes wins, including last year's Seattle Handicap and FOX Sports Net Handicap at Emerald Downs. Now, ready to defend his title, Kruger Park will have to beat a 10-horse field in Sunday's $50,000 Seattle Handicap for older horses going six furlongs.

“He's doing fantastic and he should repeat last year's Seattle win.” Moreno said. “He worked 59 (seconds) flat the other day, like it was nothing.”

Six furlongs appears to be the best distance for Kruger Park, who has four wins and one second-place finish in his last five races going around one turn. If Atta Boy Roy, who recently won the $250,000 Churchill Downs Handicap Grade 2, hadn't put in a stellar campaign in 2009, Kruger Park may have been the top choice for Top Sprinter.

Moreno said that not only has the training been going wonderful, but Kruger Park's health has also improved greatly.

“He had problems with his feet all last year,” he said. “This year he isn't dealing with quarter-cracks and his feet look much better.”

Kruger Park will need to be in top shape because he faces one of the best Seattle Handicap fields in recent years, including some of last year's top 3-year-olds, who make their first start in the older horse stakes division. The group also includes the last two Longacres Mile champs—Assessment and Wasserman.

“Every horse deserves to be in the race,” Moreno said. “It's a well put-together field—nothing but quality.”

Assessment

Lou and Diane Tice's Assessment blew out four furlongs in a bullet 47 1/5 from the starting gate Wednesday under Jennifer Whitaker, and trainer Howard Belvoir pronounced the 2009 Longacres Mile champion ready to go.

The Seattle Handicap, in which Assessment finished second last year, marks the 6-year-old gelding's first start since undergoing ankle surgery in September.

“His attitude's good, he looks like a million dollars,” Belvoir said. “We're good to go.”

Assessment drew the No. 10 post, which Belvoir termed “ideal”, and will again be ridden by Gallyn Mitchell. The track's all-time leader with 63 stakes wins, Mitchell had three potential calls but chose Assessment over Peaceful Reign and Winning Machine.

Assessment clearly favors Emerald Downs where his record is 14-7-3-0-$321,030. His combined record at Golden Gate and Bay Meadows is 11-0-1-3-$34,950.

Winning Machine, Noosa Beach, Peaceful Reign and Rooster City could become the first 4-year-old to win the Seattle Handicap since Crimson Look in 1998.

Winning Machine (49) and Noosa Beach (50 3/5) both had four-furlong workouts Thursday for trainer Doris Harwood.

The Seattle Handicap is the first of four stakes leading up to the 75th running of the $250,000 Longacres Mile, Grade 3, on Sunday, Aug. 22. Others: $50,000 Budweiser Handicap, one mile, Sunday, June 20; $50,000 Governor's Handicap, 6 ½ furlongs, Sunday, July 11; $50,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap, 1 1/8 mile, Sunday, Aug. 1.

The Seattle Handicap will be broadcast live on KJR 950 AM (4-5 p.m.) with Mike Gastineau anchoring coverage.

The field for the 72nd running of the Seattle Handicap (Race 6, 4:49 pm): Winning Machine, Francisco Duran, 119 lbs.; Peaceful Reign, Julio Garcia, 118; Kruger Park, Inoel Beato, 117; Elusive Schemes, Troy Stilwell, 116; Rooster City, Seth Martinez, 116; Noosa Beach, Ricky Frazier, 118; Wasserman, Jennifer Whitaker, 117; Gallon, Juan Gutierrez, 115; Yankee Bravo, Anne Von Rosen 116; Assessment, Gallyn Mitchell, 121.

Advance wagering on the Preakness

Advance wagering on Saturday's entire Pimlico card including the 135th Preakness Stakes will be offered all day Friday at Emerald Downs. Wagers include a special $2 Daily Double on Friday's Black-Eyed Susan, about 3 p.m. and Saturday's Preakness, about 3:15 p.m. NBC will telecast the Preakness from 2-3:30 p.m.

News and Notes

• Week 5 honors: Jockey-Francisco Duran (3-for-13, including Feeling Fancy in Federal Way Handicap); Trainer-Larry Wolf (3-for-4, including Hes' All Heart in Friday feature); Owner-Homestretch Farms Inc. (3-for-5); Groom-Trai Tollett (Bill Tollett).

• Include the Baby had superficial scrapes but was doing well after a gate-flipping incident while loading for the Federal Way Handicap. Include the Baby was the 3-2 favorite before the scratch…West Seattle Boy takes another crack at a record-tying 16th Emerald Downs victory in Sunday's third race at one mile. The 11-year-old gelding drops to $3,500 claiming after finishing fourth for a $5,000 tag May 2.

• 10-year-old Seventy Sixer (15-for-81 lifetime) and 9-year-old Olly Blast (11-for-41) also are entered in the third.

• Yet another old pro, 9-year-old Polo Bender, is among a full field of 12 entered in Sunday's fifth for $5,000 claimers at six furlongs. The Washington-bred gelding is 18-for-49 lifetime and 8-for-18 at Emerald Downs.

• 99 horses are entered Sunday, an average of 9.9 per race for the 10-race card.

• The 2-year-olds will be unveiled soon. The next condition book (May 21-June 6) lists several extra races for the babies.

• Nominations for the first 3-year-old stakes, $50,000 Auburn Handicap, close Saturday. The 6 ½-furlong Auburn will be run Sunday, May 23.

• Posse Power worked four furlongs in 48 1/5 Wednesday for trainer Frank Lucarelli. Third in the El Camino Real Derby, Grade 3 and eighth in the Santa Anita Derby, Grade 1, Posse Power adds depth to a sophomore division that already features Forener, Hollywood Harbor and Koala Beach.

• Westsideclyde, voted Top Sprinter in 2007, continues on the comeback trail for trainer Martin Pimentel. The 8-year-old Old Topper gelding breezed a half-mile in 53 4/5 Wednesday.

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