09/11/2002 12:00AM

'Ruckus' cut below the best

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EDMONTON, Alberta - With the Northlands meet winding down and slim pickings on the stakes schedule, stakes-caliber horses are forced to seek other options.

That's the case in the eighth race Friday. Little Lolitta, Slewability, and Viva Ruckus will battle in the $32,000 optional claiming race that includes an allowance condition for nonwinners of two other than maiden or claiming this season.

Enjoying the best year of her career with $82,286 in earnings, Viva Ruckus is the morning-line favorite and will race for the $32,000 tag.

Trainer Ron Grieves said Viva Ruckus will be a part of the early pace. "She's a hard horse to spot now because she's won the conditions and is probably better suited to this level," said Grieves. "She was fortunate to win a stakes but she's probably not as good as the rest of the stakes mares."

Grieves claimed Viva Ruckus, a 7-year-old, at Stampede on May 25 after three straight wins and won with her once more in Calgary before entering her in the first stakes of this meeting. In that race, the $40,000 Wild Rose June 28, Viva Ruckus upset solid opponents with a three-wide move at the top of the lane. Grieves then left her running with the top mares in Alberta but in her next two trips she had a tough time.

"In the Patrick, we tried to take a hold of her to rate her so that she would be able to run the mile, but she just threw her head up and said, 'No way,' " said Grieves.

"The next time out she just hooked the best horses on the track. She's an upper claimer, but she's always competitive."

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