03/14/2004 1:00AM

Cat Genius looks smart in Pelleteri


NEW ORLEANS - Cat Genius is back. Back from a severe foot injury sustained at the end of his 2-year-old season, back from a disappointing 3-year-old campaign, and back near the top of the Midwest sprint division.

Three weeks after losing the Taylor's Special Handicap here by a nose, Cat Genius won the $125,000 Pelleteri Breeders' Cup - Fair Grounds's premier sprint stakes - by a half-length late Sunday afternoon. Racing over a rain-quickened strip, Cat Genius set a torrid pace in the six-furlong Pelleteri, withstanding a late run from Mountain General and a claim of foul by Mountain General's rider, Shane Sellers. Sellers said Cat Genius and Robby Albarado drifted off the rail and into Mountain General's path inside the sixteenth pole, but Fair Grounds stewards disallowed the claim.

Cat Genius, who paid $6 as the favorite, ran six furlongs in 1:08.83, equaling the stakes record. Aloha Bold finished third.

Cat Genius won the first three starts of his career, hurt his foot in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in late November, 2002. It might be argued he has just now gotten back to form. Cat Genius won twice at age 3; between those bookends were five straight losses.

His loss in the Taylor's Special was promising. Challenged in upper stretch, Cat Genius fought on to the finish.

"He showed his hand last race when he fought back so gamely," said trainer Tom Amoss. "The question was, could he duplicate the race on short rest."

Off a beat slowly Sunday, Cat Genius quickly took the lead, running an opening quarter-mile in 21.29 seconds and a half in 43.77, fractions rarely seen at Fair Grounds.

"The pace was fast, but he was doing it easily," said Albarado, who picked up the mount because Calvin Borel was out of town Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mountain General was getting the kind of setup that wins him races. He sat near the back of the field while Cat Genius flew up front, and began rallying at the top of the stretch. Mountain General split horses in mid-stretch and had aim on Aloha Bold and Cat Genius, but his rally fell just short.

"He ran his tail off," Sellers said. "If I don't have to stop riding (in the stretch), I think he gets there."