10/03/2007 12:00AM

Indiana Oaks sets up for closers

EmailBoca Grande and Marietta, who do their best running late, figure to have the upper hand Friday night in a speed-laden Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind. The Grade 3, $400,000 race for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles may have as many as 12 starters, so a clean trip for the favorites will be crucial but is not assured.

"There's a lot of gas in there," said Marietta's trainer, Eoin Harty. "But sometimes there's too much focus on the amount of speed and then just one gets away."

A quick pace seems likely, however, with at least six possible pacesetters. That should help Marietta, a late-developing daughter of Machiavellian owned by the Darley Stable, who took back-to-back Grade 3 events at Prairie Meadows and Arlington Park over the summer with solid late rallies. Her Iowa Oaks win on dirt also dispelled any notion that her best would be limited to synthetic surfaces, over which she showed marked improvement last spring.

In contrast to Marietta, Boca Grande has been a good one from the beginning, ending her 2-year-old campaign on a promising note with a decisive win in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct. While she's run some nice races this year, scoring a second graded win in the Comely at Aqueduct and finishing second in the Grade 1 Test, she has not made the impact in the upper echelon of the division that many had expected when the season began.

Things could be different in the Indiana Oaks if for no other reason than it is around two turns, and the Demoiselle has been Boca Grande's only two-turn attempt to date. Trainer Shug McGaughey also has a winning history in the race, having saddled another Phipps Stable homebred, Daydreaming, to win the 2004 Indiana Oaks.

The only other graded winner in the Oaks is Appealing Zophie, who captured the Grade 1 Spinaway last year, but as a front-runner she will likely be at a disadvantage with so much other speed in the field. Appealing Zophie has raced sporadically since March and was most recently a well-beaten third in the seven-furlong Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga.

Humble Janet and Tessa Blue are two improving fillies who merit a look. Two of Humble Janet's three wins have been in claiming races, but she was second to Marietta in both the Arlington and Iowa oaks over the summer. Tessa Blue was recently second in the 1 1/16-mile Prairie Meadows Oaks despite dueling through sprint-like fractions. She might be forced to employ rating tactics after drawing post 12.

* The Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby, the highlight of the Hoosier meet, tops Saturday night's card.