01/17/2004 1:00AM

Mare, rider have made good team


PORTLAND, Ore. - Six Strings Down will be the one to beat when she drops in for a $6,250 claiming price to take on 10 rivals in Monday's best race at Portland Meadows, a six-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares.

Six Strings Down, a 5-year-old mare, has posted a win and three seconds in her four starts against allowance company at this meeting. She set the pace in all of those outings, and regular rider Melissa Peery is again expected to put her on the lead. Peery, incidentally, appears to have a special affinity for Six Strings Down. The six races in which she and Six Strings Down have been paired have resulted in two wins and four seconds. In two outings with other riders aboard, Six Strings Down was beaten a combined 33 lengths.

Six Strings Down won't have a free pass to the lead, as Maria Kay is expected to dispute the issue from the inside post. The 5-year-old Maria Kay ran second in the Diane Kem Stakes here last season, but she has yet to find her best stride in three starts at the current meet. Maria Kay, trained by Fred Hepton, will be attempting to make amends for failing as the 8-5 favorite in her last outing on Dec. 26, when she finished fifth against $6,250 company at six furlongs.

Adding more fuel to the pace fire is Waytocutewaytocool, who is coming off a wire-to-wire win over $5,000 company at six furlongs, and Storm Tempest, who led throughout to defeat $6,250 rivals here in December.

Should the pace get too hot, the late-running Bewitchury, who closed for second behind Storm Tempest in December, might be the one to benefit most.