05/08/2002 11:00PM

Expect a fierce fight for the lead


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Pace figures to be a big factor in the outcome of Saturday's $35,000 Strawberry Morn Stakes at Hastings Park. Both Queen of My Nights and Grooms Derby like to be in front and how fast they go early will ultimately decide if any of the other six fillies and mares have a chance in the 6 1/2-furlong feature.

Queen of My Nights won four straight stakes races before having her streak end with a second-place finish to Castle Mountain in the Supernaturel Stakes last May. All four of her wins, which included the prestigious 2000 Sadie Diamond Futurity, were gate-to-wire victories and her trainer, Dino Condilenios, isn't planning to change her style to accommodate Grooms Derby.

"If we had drawn outside of Grooms Derby we might have tried something different," he said. "But since we should have the edge from the inside, I'm sure Chris [Loseth] will be sending her."

There's little doubt that she will be joined by Grooms Derby soon after they leave the starting gate. In 13 of the 14 starts at Hastings Park, Grooms Derby has been in front going into the first turn. Her trainer, Michael Turner, reports that she's fit to run despite an incident April 28 where she jumped over the fence separating the winner's enclosure from the tarmac in front of the grandstand. Pedro Alvarado will ride.

If Loseth and Alvarado have a hard time slowing their mounts down early, it could set up nicely for Always a Dixie, who has been training exceptionally well this spring.

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