01/25/2002 12:00AM

New players resume an old rivalry

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Flying Huey and Knight Cover pretty much dominated the handicap ranks at Portland Meadows in the latter half of the last decade, winning 29 races and 19 stakes between them. They finished one-two in seven of their eight head-to-head meetings, with Flying Huey, trained by Delmer Webb, winning four of those match-ups and Knight Cover, trained by Steve Fisher, prevailing in three.

When they retired - Flying Huey last March and Knight Cover in November - it seemed like more than the end of a rivalry. It was the end of an era.

The new era has a lot in common with the old one, however. Chinquapin Charlie, who is trained by Fisher, and Yesss, who is conditioned by Webb, have emerged as the top two handicap runners on the grounds.

Chinquapin Charlie established his credentials last year at 4, winning the Polynesian Flyer Handicap and the prestigious Portland Meadows Mile here last spring, then capturing the Longacres Mile Consolation at Emerald Downs in the summer before taking the Thanksgiving Handicap back at this track in the fall.

Yesss, who is a year younger than Chinquapin Charlie, gave notice early last year with victories in the OTBA Stallion Stakes and the OTBA Sophomore Stakes at Portland Meadows, then made good on his early promise with a half-length victory over the Fisher-trained Fly Buddy Fly last time out in the Oregon His Stakes on Dec. 15, when he ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:49.06 after leading almost from the start.

The two rising stars will meet for the first time in what could be an extended rivalry in Sunday's William Kyne Handicap at nine furlongs.

"It's funny to be going head-to-head with Delmer again so soon after we retired our best horses, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised," said Fisher.

"He knows how to get the best out of his horses, and they will hold their form for him. We've been rivals for quite a while now, but it is a friendly rivalry and I've enjoyed it."

Fisher will start both Chinquapin Charlie and Fly Buddy Fly in the Kyne, but he doesn't feel that having Webb outnumbered gives him an edge.

"The problem is that neither one of my horses has any tactical speed at all," he said. "Delmer's horse has speed, and he is about the only horse on the list of nominations who does. That gives him a distinct advantage."

Webb hopes that Yesss can make his speed count, but he knows it is never easy to beat an accomplished older runner with a horse who has just graduated from the 3-year-old ranks.

"He has only beaten his own age group to this point, whereas Steve's horse has proven himself against open company," Webb noted. "My horse is good now, though. He has been training really well, so I hope he is ready to go a mile and an eighth even though he hasn't raced in six weeks. Steve's horse has been off even longer, but I know he'll be ready. His horses are always tough to beat."

* The Oregon-bred Awards Banquet, which is staged annually by the Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, will be held Saturday evening, Feb. 9, in the Turf Club at Portland Meadows. The Oregon-bred champions of 2001, as determined by a vote of the OTBA membership, will be announced after the banquet.

* The Washington Horse Racing Commission has scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, in the city council chambers at Auburn City Hall. Among the items under consideration is a request from Emerald Downs to conduct future book wagering on the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

* Horses are now on the grounds at Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C., to prepare for the track's 89-day meeting that will run from April 20 through Nov. 3. The track's newly-appointed racing secretary, Debbie Peebles, reported that she has received stall applications for about 1,300 horses.