04/13/2004 11:00PM

Cat Fighter sitting pretty on the rail


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Baffert invasion is officially under way. Besides Wimbledon and Preachinatthebar, his hopefuls for a fourth Kentucky Derby victory, trainer Bob Baffert also has brought his usual strong supporting cast from Southern California to Kentucky for what he hopes is another successful spring and summer.

Although he typically waits to begin flexing his muscles at the Churchill Downs meet, Baffert figures to be front and center Friday at Keeneland, where Cat Fighter will face 10 other fillies and mares in the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes.

Cat Fighter will have the advantage of starting from the rail in the 1 1/16-mile Doubledogdare, which is carded as the ninth of 10 Friday races and directly follows the Grade 1 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings steeplechase. In her last start, Cat Fighter contested all the pace and gamely held off a pair of challenges in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita. That Feb. 14 victory surely enhanced her value when she was sold by her breeder and former owner, The Thoroughbred Corp., in early March for $1.3 million to John Sikura and Audrey Haysfield.

With the Doubledogdare as her first try under Sikura's blue-and-white silks, Cat Fighter will be ridden for the first time by Cornelio Velasquez. As a filly with speed aplenty, she figures to be tough to catch over a racetrack that in recent days has seemed to favor early runners.

If Cat Fighter does not run her best, then there are plenty of alternatives from which to choose.

Mayo on the Side is one of those. Trained by Carl Nafzger, the 5-year-old mare was a romping winner in an allowance sprint here last fall and has the tactical ability to stay within striking range.

Roar Emotion, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is another solid contender, having won the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February before a disappointing run behind Sightseek in the Rampart last month.

Yet two more to consider are Saintly Action, who figures to gain a forward position after breaking from the far outside post, and Zawzooth, a late-striding gray mare trained by Todd Pletcher.

The rest of the field is Clear Destiny, Jaramar Rain, My Trusty Cat, There Runs Hattie, Chamrousse, and Salty Farma.