05/15/2002 12:00AM

'Carousel': On his way to bigtime?

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AUBURN, Wash. - The best claim of trainer Charles Essex's career was Handy N Bold, who has won nine stakes and earned more than $300,000 since being claimed out of his debut for $25,000.

Nobody can expect Slew's Carousel to compile similar numbers, but Slew's Carousel, a 3-year-old son of Slewdledo, certainly appears to be a useful acquisition. Just how useful he can be should be clearer after he runs for the second time in Friday's feature at Emerald Downs, a six-furlong race for $16,000 3-year-olds, which has drawn a field of seven.

Essex claimed Slew's Carousel for Heavenly Valley Stable out of his debut against $12,500 maidens on April 21, when he overcame significant trouble to score by a half-length in an extremely fast 1:02.60 for 5 1/2 furlongs. Bumped hard at the start, he got away a length behind, then raced in tight quarters on the backstretch and around the turn. He split horses approaching the lane and wore down the pacesetting Latest Chapter.

Latest Chapter has come back to flatter Slew's Carousel's effort, running second to the slumming Just Outrageous while racing for a $16,000 tag last Saturday.

Slew's Carousel may receive his sternest challenge from Victor Slew, who is dropping sharply after finishing fourth and then fifth in a pair of allowance sprints won by Salt Grinder and Flying Notes, who are generally regarded as the two fastest 3-year-olds on the grounds. Victor Slew was a 5 1/2 length winner over $20,000 maidens in his debut here in August.

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