11/05/2003 12:00AM

Pair of pace setters in rematch

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Midnight Cruiser and Donovan Scores, who finished a head apart in first and second when they met at 5 1/2 furlongs here on Oct. 25, will be rematched at six furlongs in Friday night's featured race for older $3,200 claimers at Portland Meadows.

Midnight Cruiser endured pressure from Donovan Scores from start to finish in their recent meeting but never yielded - maintaining a short lead to the wire in 1:06 under Bob Webb. Midnight Cruiser, who was making his Portland Meadows debut that day, was claimed by trainer Nub Norton for owner Larry Arnsberg. Although Midnight Cruiser will be going for new connections Friday, Webb retains the mount.

Donovan Scores, trained by Jonathan Nance, went off as a slight favorite over Midnight Cruiser on Oct. 25 but could not overcome the half-length lead his rival established after the first quarter mile. Donovan Scores was gradually getting to Midnight Cruiser in the final furlong, however, and should appreciate the added sixteenth of a mile in Friday's rematch. Leading rider Juan Gutierrez retains the mount.

It is not uncommon to see two front-runners hang on after dueling throughout, as Midnight Cruiser and Donovan Scores did last time. But it is unusual if the pace battle involves three horses, and that could happen Friday, when The Cats Back joins the cast. The Cats Back led a field of $2,500 claimers before settling for second last out, on Nov. 1, and he almost always runs on the pace.

A contested pace could open the door for closers El Bon, Dark Fool, and Kid Chrome.