06/09/2004 11:00PM

Two try to dethrone the queen


CALGARY, Alberta - There is quality in the 31st running of the Duchess of York at Stampede Park on Saturday, but quantity is lacking in the $40,000 allowance stakes, which attracted just three entrants from among the nine fillies and mares nominated to the 1 1/16-mile test.

The presence of Alberta's 2003 horse of the year, Raylene, undoubtedly scared away a few hopefuls, and the Duchess of York, to be run as the eighth race, will be limited to win wagering only.

A 4-year-old by Tabasco Cat, Raylene comes off a visually impressive victory in the Ken Pearson Memorial on Victoria Day. She handled her two rivals on Saturday - A Shaky Start and Northern Neechitoo - with ease under Rickey Walcott in that one-mile race, which was contested over a muddy surface. The extra sixteenth of a mile on Saturday only enhances her appeal.

A Shaky Start boast three victories over Raylene, including a sprint score in the M.R. Jenkins Memorial here May 9, and was compromised when she hit the gate at the start of the Pearson.

A Shaky Start figures to get a stalking trip just behind probable pacesetter Northern Neechitoo and is expected to run much better with a clean break.

Northern Neechitoo, a 7-year-old with 14 career victories, retains the services of leading rider Quincy Welch and hails from the high percentage shed row of Floyd Arthur. Her game plan will not change - Welch will try to steal the race on the lead - and Northern Neechitoo is proven at the distance.