07/18/2007 12:00AM

Ella Maria's speed gives her the edge


SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Ella Maria seeks to complete a stakes double at Marquis Downs in Friday's Old Dutch Handicap for fillies and mares, and should be well backed to defeat her four foes. The $6,000 Old Dutch is run over seven furlongs and Ella Maria will try to use her front-running tactics to her advantage.

Ella Maria began the year at Stampede Park, finishing second in both outings there but being promoted to the top spot when in for a $30,000 tag on the second occasion. Ella Maria traveled to Assiniboia Downs and won her initial try there in a first-level allowance. She couldn't handle allowance and stakes horses in two subsequent races there, and her connections sent her to Marquis Downs.

Bet down to 4-5, Ella Maria won the Sun Life Handicap at six furlongs by a neck after having relinquished the lead a furlong out. Ella Maria missed the seven-furlong allowance prep for this race on July 6 but worked five furlongs in 1:00 July 11 and should be ready to win another.

Target's Answer tracked Ella Maria in the Sun Life and actually grabbed a half-length lead at the head of the lane before falling just short. That effort may have been too taxing on Target's Answer as she failed to threaten in the Sun Life prep when finishing fifth, beaten four lengths.

While the prep winner, Devdrudan, wasn't entered in the Old Dutch, the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers are back.

Distant Friend closed gamely for second, missing by a length in her first local start after having been victorious in Lethbridge. Sweep the Place dueled throughout and faltered late to finish just a head short of Distant Friend in third. Picture the Answer, a former champion here who finished fourth in the prep, prefers more ground but should be closing late.