07/16/2003 11:00PM

Yell deserving of another shot


NEW YORK - This may be the weekend before the first weekend of the summer's two premier race meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar, but that does not mean there is a lull in Saturday's stakes schedule. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are a pair of $500,000 races for 3-year-old fillies - the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, and the Delaware Oaks, which heads a stakes tripleheader at Delaware Park that also includes the $150,000 Dick Memorial and the $100,000 Carpenter Memorial. Also being run is the $400,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park.

And, even though its races do not boast the purse money or the quality of horseflesh of the aforementioned races, Saturday's Claiming Crown at Canterbury Park is right up there in the minds and hearts of a lot of horseplayers. That is because the Claiming Crown, which consists of six races, worth a total of $550,000, for horses that have started for a designated claiming price in the last year, often offer the full, competitive fields bettors desire.

Here are my three spotlight races:

Claiming Crown Emerald

This is the turf race in the Claiming Crown series, and yet I like one of the two in this field of 12 who has yet to win on turf - Mega Gift. Although Mega Gift is 0 for 3 on grass, two of his efforts were deceptively strong. Last March, Mega Gift was beaten less than two lengths when finishing fourth in a tough, high-priced claiming race at Santa Anita, producing a solid final quarter-mile in about 23.20 seconds. Last time out, Mega Gift finished second in an entry-level allowance race at Hollywood Park and again finished well against the clock, completing his last five-sixteenths of a mile in about 29.60. In fact, Mega Gift's only dull effort on turf came in between those performances, and he had an excuse coming off a layoff of nearly three months.

Mega Gift's strong finishes on turf fit well with the projected race setup. With five entrants preferring to do their business on or near the front end early, this race figures to be won by a closer. And, it doesn't hurt that Mega Gift is trained by Jeff Mullins, who has done almost nothing wrong all year long.

Coaching Club American Oaks

Spoken Fur may well make this her fifth straight victory. And, with the way she sucked the life out of her opposition with a quick move into the stretch in her romp in the Mother Goose last time out in her first start for trainer Bobby Frankel, she will be strongly favored. But, Spoken Fur's pedigree (by Notebook, from a Siberian Express mare) does not exactly shout proficiency at the CCA Oaks's distance of 1 1/2 miles. So, with that in mind, and given her a low price, I'll take a shot against her.

I picked Yell against Spoken Fur in the Mother Goose, and lost. But, I'm giving her another chance. Yell was not as badly a beaten second in the Mother Goose at it looks on paper. She seemed uncomfortable between horses early, but once she got outside of opponents in the stretch, she finished willingly. There is no excuse for Yell to be caught in traffic in a race like this, and being a daughter of A. P. Indy, she should relish this trip.

Delaware Oaks

Like Spoken Fur, Awesome Humor may be a vulnerable favorite. Awesome Humor did beat a once-formidable older mare in Lakenheath most recently at Arlington Park, and takes a substantial drop back in with 3-year-olds here. She is also sweetly drawn on the rail. But, with the way she was crushed first time out this year, and with the way she had to struggle winning last time out, Awesome Humor just doesn't seem like the same filly who went 4 for 4 before an injury last year.

I'm going with Island Fashion. She was severely compromised by the 12 post in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start, yet remained competitive to the stretch while in with much tougher company than she faces here. Island Fashion sports some good workouts since, and is certainly in the ballpark, Beyer Speed Figure-wise, off the 91 she earned winning the WinStar Sunland Park Oaks two starts back.