06/06/2001 11:00PM

'Invasion' takes slight drop in class

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AUBURN, Wash. - Knight Invasion, who lost narrowly against $20,000 sprinters on

May 25, heads a field of eight $16,000 to $14,000 claimers in Friday's six-furlong feature at Emerald Downs.

Knight Invasion, a 4-year-old son of Knight in Savannah, began the meet with a second and a win against $12,500 rivals. Trainer D. W. Smith claimed him out of a victory on May 12 for owners William and Nancy Rowe, then jumped him two levels. Knight Invasion justified his trainer's evaluation by leading to the shadow of the wire before yielding to Better Than That, who won by a head in 1:16.80 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Friday rivals Clean Jeans, Solid Oak, and Montana finished well behind Knight Invasion in his recent win and will need to improve sharply to contend.

Hard Rock Jazz will be tested for class, as he is meeting winners for the first time after defeating $16,000 maidens on May 13, while Perfect Con and Baby Wave are questionable on form after finishing off the board while racing for higher tags.

Red River Valley, who makes his meet debut, figures to pose the most formidable challenge to Knight Invasion, the probable favorite.

The 6-year-old, Red River Valley has won five of 20 career starts. All his victories have come at a higher level than Friday's race, and he has been training steadily and swiftly for trainer Charles Essex, who has 5 wins from

16 starters at the meet. Essex has named Hector Ventura Jr. to ride at 120 pounds.