05/05/2006 12:00AM

Auburn lures one of '05's best juveniles

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AUBURN, Wash. - Raise the Bluff is the one to beat on Sunday when he takes on eight other 3-year-olds at six furlongs in the $40,000 Auburn Handicap at Emerald Downs.

Raise the Bluff, a son of Pine Bluff from the barn of trainer Junior Coffey, finished in the exacta in 4 of his 5 starts last season, and only narrow losses to Schoolin You in the WTBA Lads and the Gottstein Futurity deprived him of divisional honors. With Schoolin You sidelined by a foot injury, Raise the Bluff figures to be favored on Sunday.

Raise the Bluff tuned up for Sunday's assignment with a game neck victory over My Friend Luis in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race on opening day, April 21. Coffey said he was glad to get the prep into Raise the Bluff, though he admitted that the Auburn comes up a little quicker than he would have liked.

"The prep race turned out to be pretty demanding," the trainer said. "He was under pressure the whole way, then he had to dig in late to hold off My Friend Luis. I would have preferred for him to have an easier race, or for him to have three or four weeks between races."

Nate Chaves again has the mount.

My Friend Luis will be back to try Raise the Bluff again in the Auburn. My Friend Luis, a son of Basket Weave trained by Doris Harwood, won both of his starts as a juvenile and just missed catching Raise the Bluff despite breaking far behind his field in the allowance prep. Kevin Radke will fill in for regular rider Leslie Mawing, who is recuperating from a leg injury.

Also dangerous are the Howard Belvoir-trained duo of Tusko T. and Courting Seattle, who will race uncoupled in the wagering owing to separate ownership.

Tusko T., a son of You and I, and Courting Seattle, a Doneraile Court gelding, both scored a pair of wins here as juveniles and they finished one-two in the six-furlong Emerald Express Stakes, with Tusko T. prevailing by less than a length. Though neither has raced at 3, both have logged a trio of six-furlong drills and appear ready to contend.

Juan Gutierrez rides Tusko T. and Jennifer Whitaker will be up on Courting Seattle.