02/16/2006 12:00AM

Bluegrass Cat begins season in Sam Davis

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Perhaps the best 3-year-old race of the season to date will take place in the unlikeliest of settings when Remsen winner Bluegrass Cat returns in a field of 12 horses entered for Saturday's $75,000 at Tampa Bay Downs.

The 1 1/16-mile Davis is a prep for the track's marquee race, the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 18. The Davis is the highlight of Festival Preview Day, which includes two other stakes.

Among the horses entered against Bluegrass Cat are the Nick Zito-trained entry of Hesanoldsalt and Little Cliff; the lightly raced but promising Laptop Computer; two-time Tampa stakes winner R Loyal Man; and the Calder-based pair of Blazing Rate and Electrify.

Bluegrass Cat is among the top Kentucky Derby prospects and a winner of 3 of his 4 starts at 2, including the Grade 3 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen. But trainer Todd Pletcher admits that Bluegrass Cat, a son of Storm Cat, doesn't figure to be 100 percent fit for his first start in nearly 11 weeks.

"He's right where we want him to be for his first start, and we expect him to run well Saturday without running his absolutely best race," said Pletcher. "The ideal scenario is for him to keep improving and to have him ready to peak on the right days later on."

Hesandoldsalt moved to the upper level of Zito's 3-year-old depth chart by winning a 1 1/8-mile first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 15. The win was the second in a row for Hesandoldsalt, a son of Broad Brush who will make his stakes debut on Saturday.

"I think my horse is good and classy, so now you got to go and find out," said Zito. "Bluegrass Cat has already proven he's a top horse, so this will be a good test, but I'm looking for my horse to run well."

Zito is also expecting improvement from Little Cliff, who finished a tiring eighth after setting a hotly contested pace in the one-mile Aventura.

"I'm taking the blinkers off to settle him down, and he's training as good as any 3-year-old we've got," said Zito.

R Loyal Man has won his last three starts, including Tampa's Inaugural and Pasco stakes by a combined 12 lengths. "We've got an edge, having a couple of races over the track, and I think he'll get the distance," said trainer Tim Ritvo. "It's just a question of whether he's good enough to beat horses like Bluegrass Cat and Hesanoldsalt."