10/07/2003 11:00PM

Yell's edge slight in deep Raven Run

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Few stakes have been as instantly successful as the Raven Run. Designed by the Keeneland racing staff as a means to fill a void for 3-year-old fillies, the Raven Run has been a magnet for top-class runners since its inception in 1999. Runners who have competed in it include such Grade 1 winners as Surfside (2000), Forest Secrets (2001), and Sightseek (2002).

The 2003 running of the $150,000 Raven Run turns up with a similarly classy look. Yell, the Claiborne Farm filly who raced exclusively in Grade 1 company this spring and summer, is one of 13 3-year-old fillies entered in Friday's Raven Run, a seven-furlong race that carries a Grade 3 ranking. Yet the most revealing aspect about the quality of this fifth running of the Raven Run is that Yell probably will not be an overwhelming favorite, a testament to the depth that the race once again has attracted.

The field also includes Country Romance, gutsy winner of the Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga two starts back for Overbrook Farm and D. Wayne Lukas; Westerly Breeze, winner of the Grade 2 Alcibiades Stakes here last fall; Ebony Breeze, winner of four races this year for trainer Bill Mott, including the $300,000 Azalea Breeders' Cup at Calder's Summit of Speed in July; Golden Marlin, a Grade 3 winner who was especially sharp in a Sept. 14 allowance triumph at Turfway Park; and Molto Vita and Tina Bull, the one-two finishers in a tough allowance race at Belmont Park last month.

Still, it is Yell who almost surely will be favored. Trained by Shug McGaughey, and a daughter of A.P. Indy, Yell is winless since taking the Davona Dale at Gulfstream in February. But all five of her subsequent starts came in Grade 1 races, a record that many fans will interpret as a class edge in her favor.

The rest of the field is Halory Leigh, My Trusty Cat, Valid Pulpit, Hippogator, Holiday Runner, and Holiday Brush.

The Raven Run is the ninth of 10 races on a Friday card that also includes three allowances. The eighth race, a $58,000 allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs, drew Bonapaw, a 7-year-old gelding who has mostly struggled since winning the Grade 1 Vosburgh last fall.

On Friday, admission is free for college students. Keeneland and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association are hosting the annual scholarship raffle. Ten scholarships worth $1,000 will be given away after each race.