03/31/2005 12:00AM

Matchup between top trainers

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CALGARY, Alberta - Saturday's feature at Stampede Park, a four-furlong optional claimer for older fillies and mares, drew a field of seven including Rum Candi, trained by Red Smith, and Classa Red Wine, trained by Dale Saunders.

The veteran trainers finished one-two in the standings at this meet last spring - a frequent occurrence over the past decade - with Smith posting 29 tallies to 20 for Saunders.

Rum Candi proved an astute claim for Smith here last spring as she went on to win a pair of allowance sprints and was stakes-placed twice. She is 2 for 2 at this half-mile distance and will be rolling late under Real Simard.

Classa Red Wine, a top 2-year-old in 2003, may not have the blazing speed she displayed in her juvenile campaign but she has been training throughout March.

Jockey Ron Blinston will break Classa Red Wine from post 6, while Rum Candi drew the rail, a post generally considered unfavorable in half-mile races here, which start in a chute.

Quincy Welch is aboard Certainly Regal, an extremely quick filly. Certainly Regal owns two victories, at 3 1/2 furlongs and four furlongs.

Northern Neechitoo is the class of the field with over $350,000 in career earnings, but the 8-year-old has lost a step along the way. She will bear watching going six furlongs next time out.

Not just Smith and Saunders

The annual Smith vs. Saunders matchup for the training crown figures to be threatened on several fronts.

Ron Grieves, the principal trainer for the powerful Bar None Ranches of Dewinton, Alberta, has plenty of bullets to fire. The breeding and racing center, located just south of Calgary, is a state-of-the art facility, and Bar None has quickly evolved into the largest operation of its size in western Canada.

Trainer Dale Greenwood and owner Danny Dion recently returned from the sales in Florida with more ammunition, as Dion continues to expand his Thoroughbred operation.

New faces in the riding colony

The riding colony has attracted some fresh faces this spring. Frank Gonsalves, a stalwart at Longacres in Seattle some years back, has arrived from New Mexico and will be handled by John Heath, the presiding dean of Alberta agents.

Marcel Crowe will take calls for newcomer Mike Fretz, who campaigned at Turf Paradise in Phoenix over the winter.