10/17/2007 11:00PM

Maid of the Mist rivals look very evenly matched

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Expect the End and Meriwether Jessica, separated by just a nose in last month's Joseph A. Gimma Stakes, renew their budding rivalry Saturday at Belmont Park in the $100,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes, the first of eight stakes races to be run for statebreds on New York Showcase Day.

The Maid of the Mist, at one mile for 2-year-old fillies, drew a field of seven, none of whom have raced this far on dirt. Only Sibley, who has raced only on turf, has competed at a mile or farther.

Expect the End prevailed in the Gimma, but it was her fourth race, whereas Meriwether Jessica was racing for only the second time. Expect the End has won three times in her four starts, and is 2 for 3 since she was claimed out of her winning debut and transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.

"Every time she's run, she's run huge," Dutrow said Thursday morning.

Expect the End was second on a sloppy track in the Colleen Stakes at Monmouth in July, then won the Jena Jena for statebreds at Saratoga on Aug. 27, four weeks prior to her victory in the Gimma.

"She couldn't have run any better in her last two," Dutrow said, "and she's been doing very well. She's a live one."

Expect the End, by Precise End, stretched out from six furlongs in the Jena Jena to seven furlongs in the Gimma, and now is going another furlong in the Maid of the Mist.

"I can't say we're afraid of it, being as it's one turn on a track she's been on," Dutrow said.

Meriwether Jessica is a nose away from being unbeaten in two starts. She romped in her debut going five furlongs at Belmont on Sept. 7, then came back just 16 days later and lost a heartbreaker while racing on the rail in the Gimma. She drew the rail again in the Maid of the Mist.

"I wasn't excited about going from five [furlongs] to seven, but she did it pretty well," trainer Linda Rice said. "Second start, back in 16 days, off a five-furlong maiden race. Big effort on her part. Maybe we can turn the tables" against Expect the End.

Honky Tonk Trick was fourth in the Gimma in her second start. Her trainer, Tom Bush, is adding blinkers for Saturday's race. John Velazquez takes over, replacing Ramon Dominguez, who is riding Sibley.

"Her race the other day was strange," Bush said of Honky Tonk Trick. "Ramon said he couldn't get her to get up to those horses she was up against. She was leaning out, looking at the other horse, and he was tapping her on the right shoulder and he couldn't get her to tuck in and stay close to her horses. He thought the blinkers would possibly help her.

"I worked her in them the other day and she worked well enough, and we want to settle and make a run. I thought neither one of those fillies in that race," Bush said, referring to the Gimma, "were finishing anything special, and they've got to go another eighth of a mile."

- additional reporting by David Grening