12/15/2004 1:00AM

Beluga Star tries to turn tables in '04


PORTLAND, Ore. - Track-record holder Beluga Star and defending champion Snowbound Queen will square off in Friday's Candy Cane Handicap, a $5,000 stakes for older Quarter Horses at 870 yards.

Beluga Star, a 7-year-old son of Juno Dat Cash from the barn of trainer Gary Klinger, set the bar for 870 yards here in April 2003, when he sped the distance in 45.42 seconds and won the Mayor's Cup by a widening seven lengths. Largely on the strength of that performance, Beluga Star was favored at 6-5 in last year's Candy Cane Handicap, but he had to settle for second, two lengths behind Snowbound Queen.

Beluga Star enters this year's Candy Cane in extremely sharp form, having won the 350-yard Autumn Handicap and the 400-yard Columbia River Handicap in two starts at the current stand. Off those efforts, Beluga Star will carry high weight of 126 pounds on Friday, when he will again be ridden by Tim Neal.

Snowbound Queen, a 4-year-old daughter of the Thoroughbred sire Snowbound, prepped for Friday's engagement by finishing 10th and last behind Beluga Star in the Columbia River, but she was bumped from both sides at the start of that race. She stretches out to her best distance on Friday, and she will break from the favorable rail post under Twyla Beckner at 122 pounds.

The top two will be challenged by four other distance specialists, including possible upsetter Billeys Easter Dash.