06/10/2002 11:00PM

3-year-olds may have caught up

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AUBURN, Wash. - Three-year-olds are usually at a severe disadvantage when they face their elders early in the year, but at some point they catch up. Has that point arrived?

That's the question in Thursday's feature at Emerald Downs, which matches four 3-year-old fillies against five 4-year-old fillies under $12,500 nonwinners-of-two lifetime conditions at 6 1/2 furlongs.

On paper, it looks as though two of the 3-year-olds will be the ones to beat. One of those, Vampira, appears to be the speed of Thursday's field. Vampira, a Knight in Savannah filly, was claimed by trainer Tom Wenzel for Alyamnat Stable on May 9. She set the pace and held second to Dolly's Hit Man in that 5 1/2-furlong race for a $16,000 tag. Her effort was flattered when Dolly's Hit Man came back to spring a huge upset in the Kent Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on June 2. Vampira came back to get third after showing the way for $16,000 company at six furlongs on May 27, a day when the track was unkind to speed. If the surface is neutral on Thursday, Vampira could prove an elusive target for her pursuers.

Another 3-year-old, Ceetune, is dropping off a creditable fourth-place finish against $25,000 fillies on May 18 and should prove formidable at the $12,500 level.

The 3-year-olds in the feature will all be meeting older rivals for the first time.

The older set is headed by Ice Cream Social, who is coming off a troubled fourth in a similar spot, and Griggs, who was an eight-length winner over $8,000 maidens in her yearly debut on May 19, when she sped six furlongs in 1:10.

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