01/05/2008 1:00AM

Dark Diva tough if she can handle the rail


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Junior Coffey has one concern as Dark Diva makes the second start of her career in a six-furlong maiden race for

3-year-old fillies Monday at Golden Gate Fields.

She drew the rail in the field of eight.

"Young horses sometimes have problems drawing the rail," he said. "You see a lot of them veer left after leaving the starting gate."

Dark Diva has impressed Coffey since he first saw her as a yearling in 2006.

"She's a half to some real nice horses in Seattle," Coffey said, referring to three siblings that are multiple stakes winners and a fourth that has won one stakes.

"She has a Ruffian-type look about her," he added. "She's the same coloring. When I saw her, I got the impression of seeing Ruffian. She has a nice rump and shoulder, but she's very feminine."

In Dark Diva's debut on Dec. 15, she broke slowly and was shuffled back early. But she rallied strongly for second.

"In training from the beginning, she was all business," Coffey said.

He planned to take Dark Diva to the chute and have her run out of it in hopes she will learn to run straight as she goes past the temporary rail.

A better start, and not ducking in early, could be the key for Dark Diva.

"Maybe breaking a bit slowly and getting shuffled back helped her last time," Coffey said. "Hopefully, we get improvement out of her. I believe they improve after a race. Now they can handle the paddock and work into the post parade."

Coffey said Frisco Fox would be the rival to fear most and he also pointed out Joyful Me, who closed well to lose by a nose in a maiden claiming race in her first start.

"I was impressed with her going into the race the last time," he said. "I thought she, the winner, and my horse were the three best-looking. I expect her to be tougher this time."

There are five first-time starters in the race. Trainer Neil Drysdale sends No Means Yes north from Southern California for her debut, apparently looking for an easy spot for the daughter of stakes-winning Crystal Illusion by Forest Camp.

Cottonwood Babe is a full sibling to stakes-winning Ducky Drake and is by Benchmark, who connects with better than 14 percent of his first-timers.

Spacy Tracy is by Awesome Again, a solid sire with debut runners.

Shu Ling and City Doll don't have win-early breeding.