07/22/2008 11:00PM

Auction Watch attacks easier hurdle

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Auction Watch is clearly a lot better running on the flat than he is jumping over hurdles.

After a two-race experiment in steeplechase events this spring, the 5-year-old Auction Watch got back to what he does best when he captured the $75,000 Alphabet Soup by two lengths last month at Philadelphia Park.

Friday night at Penn National Race Course, Auction Watch will try to make it two in a row in the $75,000 Ligature Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race restricted to Pennsylvania-breds.

Excluding his two hurdle events, in which he raced more than two miles while carrying 154 pounds each time, Auction Watch has won 4 of his last 5 starts. The only poor effort came when he tired to finish eighth of nine in the 1 1/2-mile Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park last September.

Four of Auction Watch's eight opponents are horses he already beat in the June 14 Alphabet Soup, including runner-up Capitano and third-place finisher Avanti Avanti.

Capitano was giving away eight pounds to Auction Watch and making his first start after shipping from Southern California in the Alphabet Soup. He carries four pounds less than Auction Watch on Friday night, a weight shift of 12 pounds, and will be making his first start for high-percentage trainer Graham Motion.

Avanti Avanti, beaten 6 1/2 lengths in the Alphabet Soup, returned to beat open $35,000 claimers 2 1/2 weeks ago at Monmouth Park.

R. Earl was sixth in the Alphabet Soup, but he endured a wide trip and was steadied with three furlongs remaining. He prepped for the Ligature in a dirt sprint and owns a 3-for-6 record over Penn National's grass course.

The two most intriguing newcomers Auction Watch must face are Delaware River and Captain Ernie, who were within a length of each other as the one-two finishers in the 1 1/8-mile Willy Wank Handicap last month over the synthetic Tapeta surface at Presque Isle Downs.

Neither Delaware River nor Captain Ernie has won on turf, though they have made only three starts on the surface combined.