09/12/2001 11:00PM

Another step up for Tough Dancer

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AUBURN, Wash. - An evenly-matched field of nine 3-year-old fillies, each eligible to be claimed for $10,000 or $9,000, will vie over 5 1/2 furlongs in Friday's featured ninth race at Emerald Downs.

One who is certain to draw strong backing is Tough Dancer, who will be seeking her third straight win for trainer Bud Klokstad. Tough Dancer, a Tough Knight filly who races for Helen Sherry and Billie Klokstad, came from fourth position to down $5,000 claimers at five furlongs on July 15, then returned on Aug. 23 to defeat $8,000 opponents at 5 1/2 furlongs, again coming from fourth to score by three-parts of a lengths in a rapid 1:04.40

over a sloppy track. Her stalking style should play well against Friday's field, which contains an abundance of speed, but leading rider Ben Russell will need to avoid losing too much ground from the outside post.

Playful Sara, who closed from seventh to get second behind Tough Dancer in her most recent win, poses an obvious threat to the probable favorite, especially because she will exit the inside post and should be able to save ground most of the way. She has not been worse than second in her last four starts and again seems a solid exacta chance on Friday.

Tough Dancer and Fast Play will be trying to tag a formidable speed brigade that includes May Be a Superbuzz, Triton Cove, Gift of the Devil, Expressive One and First Fantacy, all of whom have registered at least one wire-to-wire win at the current Emerald Downs meeting.

Another who seems capable of threatening from off the pace is Supreme Power. Though she collected her maiden win on the front end in June, she has since come from mid-pack to register two thirds and a pair of fourths against considerably tougher company. She is dropping off a mile effort on the $16,000 level and should be finishing strongly under Gary Baze, who will be riding Supreme Power for the first time.