05/07/2004 12:00AM

Rivals square off in Jenkins

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CALGARY, Alberta - The most anticipated matchup of the young season is set to take place in Sunday's $40,000 M.R. Jenkins Memorial at Stampede Park, when Raylene, Alberta's horse of the year last year following her upset score in the Canadian Derby, takes on archrival A Shaky Start.

The Jenkins, a six-furlong handicap, is a coming out party for Raylene and A Shaky Start, both 4-year-old fillies. They dominated their division last season, winning six races apiece and earning acclaim as two of the best 3-year-old fillies on this circuit in some years.

The Jenkins attracted a solid field of eight, including Northern Neechitoo, a 7-year-old mare with the credentials to spoil the party for her younger rivals.

There is plenty of early speed in the lineup, a factor that weighs heavily in favor of Raylene, whose devastating late kick carried her to six stakes victories and consideration in Sovereign Award balloting last year.

A Shaky Start captured four stakes last season, twice defeating Raylene, to become champion Alberta-bred.

The major prep to this race failed to fill, forcing Raylene and A Shaky Start to come into the race on works alone, but both look like top 4-year-olds contenders.

Floyd Arthur, who has seven wins from 14 starters in the first 20 days of racing, sends out Northern Neechitoo.

Northern Neechitoo can be a handful on her best day, as evidenced by her 14-for-29 record. She will provide a good barometer for her younger rivals.