05/01/2003 11:00PM

Jenkins field filled with class

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CALGARY, Alberta - Sunday's 18th running of the $40,000 M.R. Jenkins Memorial promises to be one of the strongest renewals in recent years, with seven stakes winners among the nine fillies and mares entered.

Galaxy and Tantoo, the one-two finishers in the major prep here April 20, are the only non-stakes winners in the lineup for this six-furlong handicap.

Alberta's champion older mare of 2001, Northern Neechitoo, drew post 3, and jockey Quincy Welch, in his first day back after serving a 30-day suspension, should be able to take advantage of the favorable draw.

Northern Neechitoo is very quick and her inside post makes her the one to catch in the Jenkins Memorial, which kicks off the stakes schedule for the female set. She comes into the race off works alone, but has a history of firing fresh and hails from the high-percentage barn of trainer Floyd Arthur.

Defending champion Little Lolitta also makes her seasonal debut and will have to overcome the outside post.

A 5-year-old, Little Lolitta romped home a nine-length winner over a sloppy track in the 2002 Jenkins Memorial but is in a much stronger field this time around.

Her works for trainer Don Gilkyson this spring have been strong and steady, and she is another who runs well fresh.

A Ray of Magic, Alberta's champion older mare of 2002, has started twice at the meet. She endured a three-wide journey while finishing third behind Galaxy Belle and Tantoo in her latest.