11/23/2007 12:00AM

Can anyone catch Precious Kitten?

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Precious Kitten is the lone speed in Sunday's $500,000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The first Grade 1 turf race Sunday at Hollywood Park is simple. Either front-runner Precious Kitten will win the Matriarch Stakes by racing wire to wire, or Wait a While will run her down late. Easy game.

Six fillies and mares entered the Matriarch, and horseplayers swinging at the $1 million guaranteed pick six pool will consider singling Precious Kitten. After all, she is the lone speed in the mile turf race, which is the first leg in the pick six on races 5-10.

It gets tougher in race 8, the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles. The field includes certain underlay Nobiz Like Shobiz, fourth in the Breeder's Cup Mile, the improving Grade 3 winner Bold Hawk, and the front-runner Daytona.

At $500,000 a pop, the Matriarch and Derby anchor Hollywood's three-day Autumn Turf Festival, and even if Precious Kitten is not be the best turf filly in the country, she always shows up.

"She's had a long year, but she fires every time," trainer Bobby Frankel said.

Precious Kitten has started 8 times this year, winning 3 and finishing second 4 times. The only disappointment was the BC Filly and Mare Turf, where she was eliminated when a rival bolted on the clubhouse turn.

"I was shocked she only got beat 11 lengths," Frankel said. "She might have won the race [without trouble]."

Not so fast. Precious Kitten has been beaten this year by Wait a While, Vacare, Lady of Venice, and My Typhoon. Two of those - Wait a While and Lady of Venice - are in the Matriarch field, along with Naissance Royale, Dance Away Capote, and Live Life.

Rafael Bejarano rides Precious Kitten; his strategy session with Frankel will be short.

"I don't give him instructions because he's been on her so many times," Frankel said.

That includes her lone Grade 1 in August at Del Mar, the John C. Mabee Handicap. Ken and Sarah Ramsey own Precious Kitten, a 4-year-old filly who Frankel said will go into hibernation after the Matriarch.

"I'm going to give her a nice, long break, and bring her back in summer," Frankel said.

Precious Kitten has won 8 of 18 races and $1.1 million, and is wrapping up the best season of her career. Wait a While, meanwhile, has been plagued by misfortune.

The year started well for Wait a While; she beat Precious Kitten in the Grade 3 Honey Fox in March at Gulfstream Park, and won the Grade 2 Ballston Spa in August at Saratoga. But her campaign also included three defeats at odds-on, and two key scratches. She was sick and forced to miss the Grade 2 CashCall Mile in July at Hollywood; she scratched from the BC Filly and Mare Turf because of the soft turf.

Todd Pletcher trains Wait a While, who has won 9 of 18 starts and more than $1.6 million. Garrett Gomez rides Wait a While in the Matriarch, her first start in two months.

Lady of Venice was trained by Patrick Biancone when she won the CashCall Mile on July 6. Lady of Venice has lost her two races since.

Biancone is serving a year's suspension for possession of a banned substance, and Kiaran McLaughlin is the new trainer for Lady of Venice, a seven-time winner from 12 starts. She has earned more than $1 million, and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux. Lady of Venice benefited from a swift pace winning CashCall Mile, but the Matriarch fractions are likely to be slower.

Naissance Royale won the Grade 2 Las Palmas in Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, and could be slightly overmatched Sunday. Dance Away Capote is a Grade 3 winner; Live Life is an allowance filly and the least likely winner.

The Matriarch marks the end of the season's best filly and mare grass races, but one race later an imported 3-year-old could offer a preview of the winter Strub series. The ambitions are lofty perhaps for a first-level allowance runner, but at very least, Monzante is ready to get started.

Monzante was purchased at auction last summer in England for more than $200,000, and needed time to acclimate after arriving at trainer Mike Mitchell's barn. All systems are go for Monzante, a son of Maria's Mon, whose two races on synthetic produced a win and a second.

"He's ready to run; I don't think he's going to need a race," Mitchell said. "The way he has worked and galloped out told me he's ready."