05/29/2001 11:00PM

'Poppy' key to puzzling feature


AUBURN, Wash. - Thursday's feature at Emerald Downs will test handicappers' ability to interpret race conditions. Which of the seven entrants are stepping up in class, and which are dropping?

The race, at six furlongs, is an allowance for 3- and 4-year-old fillies non-winners of two races. Queen of Zarr and Royal Fun are clearly stepping up, as they will be meeting winners for the first time after winning maiden races in $25,000 company and $16,000 company, respectively. The same can be said of Royal Journey, who finished fifth against $12,500 non-winners of two company in her most recent race.

What about Briana Beauty, who is exiting a wide open $32,000 claiming event for older fillies and mares? A glance at her competition that day, which included stakes-placed Lovely Echo, multiple allowance winner Perfect Peach, and five-time winner Maid In the Moon, confirms that she was meeting a significantly more accomplished group than she will face Thursday.

Three horses are definitely stepping down. Pharosos was last seen chasing home the top 3-year-old fillies on the grounds in the Federal Way Handicap. Primadonna Poppy comes out of an allowance race for 3-year-old fillies that featured some stakes runners, including Silver Echo, runner-up in last Sunday's Kent Handicap. Desert Liaison is dropping after showing brief speed in a tough field of older multiple winners in a $40,000 optional claiming affair on May 5.

Of the three, Primadonna Poppy is the only one who proved herself competitive on the higher level. Off her last effort and on the basic of class, she is the one to beat.