04/28/2003 11:00PM

Elloluv has mini-edge in Oaks

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Pick a trainer, any Oaks trainer. Chances are, he will say pretty much what Carl Nafzger is saying about the race.

"When those gates open Friday, they're going to separate the cream from the gravy," said Nafzger, who will saddle My Boston Gal, one of the favorites for the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs. "It's just that I don't think anybody's smart enough - at least not right now - to know how that's going to turn out."

Indeed, the 129th running of the Grade 1 Oaks, for which 12 fillies were entered Tuesday, shapes up as an extraordinarily competitive race. Elloluv has been listed as a lukewarm 5-2 favorite by Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, and six other 3-year-old fillies are listed at 10-1 or lower. Those numbers illustrate the depth of the 1 1/8-mile filly classic.

"We're like all the others in the race," said Nafzger, who five years ago sent out the Oaks runner-up, Banshee Breeze. "We've got to execute. If we execute, then we can be right there. It's one heck of a horse race."

My Boston Gal was something of a local hero last year in Kentucky after winning all three of her races with ease. But then she lost her first two starts at 3, and it was only after she won her latest race, the Grade 2 Stonerside Beaumont at Keeneland, that she once again was being mentioned among the best of her group.

My Boston Gal, with Pat Day named to ride, drew post 2, just outside of Elloluv, another filly who happened to win a major race in her last start at Keeneland. As a 3 1/4-length winner of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on April 5, Elloluv has assumed the role of 3-year-old filly division leader, although she will be in for the most demanding test of her career on Friday.

Some of the other highly regarded fillies in the Oaks are Lady Tak, who incurred her first career defeat when second as the favorite behind Elloluv in the Ashland; Bird Town, the runner-up to My Boston Gal in the Beaumont; Yell, winner of the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park; and Santa Catarina, the Bob Baffert-trained filly who won her only start this year after finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall.

The rest of the Oaks field is Go for Glamour, Holiday Lady, Atlantic Ocean, Tempus Fugit, In Case of Wind, and Island Fashion.

The Oaks is the first leg of the Oaks-Derby Double, the two-day wager that Churchill initiated in 1996.

Television coverage of the Oaks will be provided by ESPN2 on a one-hour show that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. The Oaks is carded as the 10th of 11 Friday races, with post time set for 5:43 p.m. The spectacular card also includes four other stakes.

The weather forecast for Friday calls for a chance of thundershowers and highs in the mid-70's. An ontrack crowd of about 100,000 has become the norm for Oaks Day.