07/26/2006 11:00PM

'Queenie' in ideal spot to rebound

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Newly crowned New England horse of the year Ask Queenie will try to snap a two-race losing streak by racing against fellow Massachusetts-bred fillies and mares in Saturday's $40,000 First Episode Stakes at Suffolk Downs.

After seven wins last year in 11 tries, including the 2005 First Episode, Ask Queenie is in a rare funk that began with an eighth-place finish in the Miss Liberty Stakes at the Meadowlands in June. When she returned home for an allowance race last month, she ran out of time to catch By Grace Alone and had to settle for second. It was her first loss in Boston since last July.

On Saturday, Ask Queenie is in a spot where she is clearly the queen: a route race with only a few token challengers from among the statebred distaff ranks.

"I'm a lot more confident that she can win this," said trainer Lori Lockhart, who saddles the 5-year-old mare for her daughter Laurine Barreira. "At the Meadowlands, I was hoping I'd get to the paddock and they would say she had the wrong shoes, because just looking at the field in there, those fillies were rapid."

Ask Queenie's primary challenger is Flirt for Fame, a 3-year-old filly trained by Mike Gorham. Flirt for Fame inherited the victory in the African Prince Stakes last time out when Sprinkle of Gold was disqualified for interference at the start of the six-furlong sprint. The stewards' decision made Flirt for Fame the winner of both races for statebred 3-year-olds this year. The problem is she has already lost to Ask Queenie, finishing fourth after a horrendous trip in the Isadorable Stakes June 3.

Another challenge for Ask Queenie could come from within the Lockhart family, as Lloyd Lockhart, the father of Lori, sends out his 3-year-old homebred Southoftheborder and Sassy Splash. Like Flirt for Fame, Southoftheborder was moved up in the African Prince, going from third to second. All of her best races have come on turf, and the First Episode will be her first two-turn dirt race.

"I don't think my father wants either of his fillies to hook Queenie," said Lori Lockhart. "But if there is something wrong with Queenie after these two losses, they could be in the right spot.

"Southoftheborder should really love going long. Her whole family loves distance."

* Yosue Rodriguez, an 18-year-old apprentice jockey, posted his first victory, aboard the 64-1 longshot Kotoyoshi in Monday's second race. A native of Puerto Rico, Rodriguez graduated from the Eddie Belmonte riding academy and rode a handful of races at El Commandante before coming to the U.S. this spring.