01/30/2002 12:00AM

Closer edge over speed in this spot

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Duke de Portola and Stregawood, the one-two finishers in a claiming race on Jan. 21, will head a bulky field of 11 under similar conditions in Friday's 1 1/16-mile Portland Meadows feature, for older $4,000 claimers who have never won three races.

Duke de Portola, a 5-year-old from the barn of Brandon Porter, went to the front at the start of the Jan. 21 race and drew out to score by 4 1/2 lengths, running the mile in 1:43.02. Employing opposite tactics, Stregawood lagged 11 1/2 lengths back in last through the initial quarter-mile, but finished with a bold rush to get second.

Duke de Portola's running style is generally more effective than Stregawood's over the Portland surface, but two factors could serve to equalize their chances on Friday. Stregawood got much the best of things in the draw for posts, starting in 4 while Duke de Portola will start from the far outside. And Duke de Portola will face a stiff challenge for the lead from Winner's Lad, a recent sprint winner, and Western Chief, who led throughout in a maiden race at a mile on Jan. 25.

A duel for the early lead would benefit Stregawood, but it would also help P'burg. P'burg finished fast to get second after rating far off a slow pace in a mile race Jan. 18, edging Bernard for place.

Bernard, a lightly-raced 4-year-old by Crowning Season, also looms a threat on Friday. A Ryland Harwood-trained gelding, he figures to improve in his second attempt around two turns, and he gets in under only 114 pounds, seven fewer than he carried in his route. Talented apprentice Melissa Peery will ride.

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