02/06/2003 12:00AM

Emily Ring seeks third straight stakes

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - If the track surface at Oaklawn, where racing was canceled Thursday because of snow, happens to be wet Saturday, it should not bother Emily Ring, who faces four rivals in the $50,000 American Beauty.

The six-furlong stakes tops an 11-race card that also features the seasonal debut of Crafty Shaw, who finished second to Lido Palace in the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill in his last start.

Emily Ring has won four of her last five starts, with two of those victories coming over wet tracks. She is looking for her third straight stakes win Saturday after winning the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural at Turfway Park on Dec. 7 and the $75,000 New Year's Eve Handicap in the mud at Mountaineer on Dec. 30.

Among her rivals Saturday are Princess Jen, who has won her last three starts, and Southern Tour, who will try to keep the stakes streak of her trainer, Cole Norman, alive. Norman has won the first two stakes of the meet.

Trainer Blackie Huffman has watched Emily Ring, now 5, grow more comfortable in her role as a front-runner over the past season.

"She was very consistent all last year," Huffman said. "I think she got a little older and a little more mature and began to settle a bit more. She used to be hell-bent for leather as far as she could go. She's more relaxed, and she's getting smarter about the way she does things."

James Lopez has the mount on Emily Ring, while Tim Doocy will ride the late-running Princess Jen.

In her last three starts, the Ronnie Campisano-trained Princess Jen has won the $30,000 Majorette at Louisiana Downs, the $30,000 Lady's Secret at Remington, and a Fair Grounds allowance race, in which she rallied from more than eight lengths behind to win.

Since that race, Princess Jen shows two bullet workouts, and should be the biggest late threat to Emily Ring.

Also worth a long look is Southern Tour, who last year won the $100,000 Carousel at Oaklawn. She will be making her first start since June 22, when she tried turf for the first time and finished third in the $75,000 Miller Lite at Lone Star Park. Back on dirt, Southern Tour will be ridden by Anthony Lovato.

Crafty Shaw tops early double

Crafty Shaw, who last time outfinished a head behind Lido Palace in the Clark at Churchill at 42-1, returns in Saturday's first race.

The 1 1/16-mile optional claiming race drew five others, some of which could advance to the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Feb. 22.

The Essex is the first of a local three-race handicap series for older horses, and Pete Vestal, who trains Crafty Shaw for Oaklawn president Charles Cella, said the plan is to make those races with Crafty Shaw.

Crafty Shaw had a productive 2002, winning four stakes races. But for all his success, one of his most memorable races came in defeat. "He ran a powerful, powerful race in the Clark," said regular rider Lopez. "He did everything I asked him to do."

Crafty Shaw is working bullets for his return, and Vestal is hopeful the horse's 5-year-old season will be his best.

* Lopez has one more high-profile mount on the card in the ninth race, a conditioned allowance, with Sir Cherokee, who is a candidate for the $75,000 Southwest for 3-year-olds on March 1.

The colt will be making his first start since Nov. 30, when he finished fourth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes won by Soto.