11/14/2002 1:00AM

Distance big question for 'Cove'

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Smugglers Cove has won 21 races from 54 starts and eight of her last nine. She will likely be a solid favorite in the sixth race Saturday, an allowance race for fillies and mares who haven't won a stakes worth $20,000 or more this year.

The distance of the race is 1 1/16 miles, and therein lies the problem for chalk players. Although Smugglers Cove has an enviable record, she has never won a race longer than 6 1/2 furlongs and has tried going this far only twice in her career.

Her running style certainly suggests that she should handle a middle distance, and her 390 Tomlinson rating for the distance indicates she should thrive around three turns. Her trainer, Harold Barroby, doesn't think that she will have any trouble with the added distance and explained why he has kept her mostly sprinting throughout her career.

"She was a very bad bleeder when she was younger, and since she's been running so well at 6 1/2 furlongs, I haven't felt the need to stretch her out," he said.

Smugglers Cove beat $32,000 optional fillies and mares rather easily in her last start, but she gave her supporters cause for worry when she reared at the gate and injured her usual rider, David Wilson. She was sent back to the paddock where she was re-saddled, with Robert May picking up the mount. None of that seemed to bother her, though, as she used her patented late move to win going away. Wilson has been named to ride Saturday.

Finvarra is the lone 3-year-old in the field and appears to be the only horse with early speed.

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