08/11/2011 1:21PM

Emerald Downs: Washington Oaks an intramural battle


AUBURN, Wash. – Jerry Hollendorfer took a look at the $65,000 Washington Oaks, nominated two fillies, and then decided to pass. One of the top fillies in British Columbia was nominated but isn’t coming. So one thing is certain heading into Emerald Downs’s marquee event for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday: The race will be won by a locally based horse for the fourth consecutive year.

But which horse? Seven were entered, though one is a maiden, and two others are eligible for races restricted to nonwinners of two. Unless something goes haywire, the Oaks will be won by one of four leading contenders – Carrabelle Harbor, impressive winner of the 1 1/16-mile Kent Handicap in her last start; Class Included, who finished second in the Kent as the 4-5 favorite; Elusive Noise, who captured the one-mile Irish Day Handicap in June; and intriguing longshot The Gang and I, a quick allowance sprinter who will try to carry her speed over nine furlongs following a two-month layoff.

Carrabelle Harbor is likely to start as the favorite. One of the leading 2-year-olds at Emerald last summer, she has regained solid footing after an eventful winter that included a stunning loss in a restricted stakes race at Portland Meadows. Carrabelle Harbor won an allowance sprint from just off the pace June 19, and then led gate to wire in the Kent, gamely turning back a bid from Class Included at the top of the stretch to win a by a length under Gallyn Mitchell. She prepped for the Oaks with best-of-the-morning five-furlong workout Sunday and appears to be peaking at a most opportune time. She’ll break from post 2, with Elusive Noise to her immediate left.

“She gets over this track so easily,” trainer Doris Harwood said when discussing Carrabelle Harbor’s workout, timed in 58.80 seconds. “She is a nice-moving filly and she’s coming up to this race beautifully.”

A fast pace is assured. The Gang and I should be forwardly placed, and Elusive Noise won the Irish Day in front-running fashion. Carrabelle Harbor generally wants the lead, but doesn’t require it. It could boil down to Carrabelle Harbor and Class Included, trained by Jim Penney, in the final furlong, just as it did the last time they met.

“Class Included is a talented filly and she’s bred to do the distance,” Harwood said. “Elusive Noise has something to prove, if she can go that distance, because she’s going to have my filly and the Penney filly breathing down her neck.”