05/28/2003 12:00AM

Is top form better than back class?

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AUBURN, Wash. - The thorny question of whether it is wiser to play horses sporting sharp current form or those boasting back class will be debated in Friday's best race at Emerald Downs, a six-furlong race for $25,000 claimers that has drawn an intriguing field of five older sprinters.

Irish Tribute and Air Turbulence are the in-form horses, as both have won at the current meeting. Irish Tribute, a 4-year-old from the powerful barn of Jim Penney, defeated $12,500 rivals in his seasonal debut, then came back to finish second, beaten less than a length by the streaking Sidekick, in a $16,000 claiming race at 6 1/2 furlongs on May 11. Sidekick came back to beat $16,000 company again just last Sunday, giving him three wins in as many starts at the meet.

Air Turbulence was also a winner on the $12,500 level in his seasonal bow, but he faded to finish seventh after pressing the pace when he took on $25,000 rivals at 6 1/2 furlongs last time out May 23. That effort must not have taken much out of Air Turbulence, as trainer Dan Kenney has elected to bring him back on short rest.

Both Cable Ready and Know Sumthin have beaten better in the past. Cable Ready won his debut against $32,000 maidens at Santa Anita and Know Sumthin defeated maiden special weight company at Hollywood Park. Cable Ready has not raced since running second to $50,000 claimers at Hollywood last June, however, and Know Sumthin has been inactive since June 2001, when he ran third against allowance runners at Hollywood.

Los Pinos, who graduated here last year on the $12,500 level, will round out the compact field.