11/15/2009 1:00AM

Bootleg Annie has nose for the wire


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It has been a long time since Kathy Walsh trained a horse with as many wins at Bootleg Annie, the 15-time winner favored Sunday in the $75,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"I've had a few like that, and they just kind of train themselves," Walsh said.

Asked to name one of her favorites, she came up with 1970s win machine Little Joker. "I don't know how many he won," Walsh said.

Little Joker won 19 of his first 50 starts, mostly at Longacres in Spokane, Wash., and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California. He also won in 1979 at Santa Anita, not bad for a horse that started his career at Longacres in a $5,000 maiden claimer.

Bootleg Annie followed a similar path: she won a $5,000 maiden claimer at Turf Paradise in February 2007, before moving deliberately up the ladder. Now a 5-year-old, Bootleg Annie has produced the best form of her career since being transferred to Walsh this winter. She has won five of her last seven starts, all for Walsh and owners Al and Saundra Kirkwood.

"She's so happy," Walsh said. "I schooled her in the paddock [Thursday] with a 2-year-old, and she was happier than the 2-year-old."

Bootleg Annie may have sensed it was almost show time. Sunday in race 3, she figures to start heavily favored in the Cat's Cradle, a 7 1/2-furlong main-track race for California-bred fillies and mares with only five starters. The race will be her first on the Hollywood Cushion Track surface, which Walsh said she trains well over.

"Of course, she would train over nails if you let her," Walsh said.

Bootleg Annie has earned $445,358 and is enjoying her best season with wins in the $100,000 California Cup Distaff, which was a turf sprint at Santa Anita, and the $150,000 Fran's Valentine, a turf route at Hollywood.

Rafael Bejarano rides Bootleg Annie, who should fall into a good trip positioned behind likely Cat's Cradle pacesetter Gambler's Justice. Gambler's Justice, third in the Cat's Cradle one year ago, is making her third start following a layoff and will be loose out front.

Smooth Performer won the E.B. Johnston Stakes at Fairplex, and then finished second behind next-out winner Lady Railrider in the Cal Cup Matron. U R All That I am has won three straight in Northern California; Barbara's Love will be forwardly placed.