08/22/2001 11:00PM

Wagon Wheel, Right Return both appear solid shots


AUBURN, Wash. - A highly competitive field of 10 3-year-olds will contest Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong, $25,000 Backstretch Chapel Stakes at Emerald Downs. The overnight stakes is restricted to 3-year-olds who have not won $19,000 since May 5, which excludes all stakes winners at Emerald's current meeting.

Wagon Wheel and Right Return appear to be solid contenders after finishing second and third to the highly regarded Sullivanitis when last seen in a $40,000 optional claiming event Aug. 5. Wagon Wheel was beaten 2 1/4 lengths after 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.80, while Right Return finished just a half-length farther back. Right Return had won his two previous outings and was claimed by trainer Valorie Lund out of the second of those wins for $25,000. Lund then freshened Right Return before bringing him back in the optional claimer, which he may have needed.

Another who contested the Aug. 5 optional claimer, Funky Dude, could improve sharply Saturday. Funky Dude, from the barn of Tom Wenzel, dueled with Jazz Beau through a fast half-mile in 45 seconds after breaking from the rail post, then tired to finish fifth. He draws outside while facing less pace competition on Saturday and may benefit from a more relaxed trip.

Also dangerous is Road Afleet, never worse than third in 10 outings, and the Dave Bennett-trained entry of Fool Around and Duke's Tune. Duke's Tune won three straight high-level claiming sprints before finishing off the board in two route stakes and should appreciate both the cutback in distance and the move into restricted company.