12/23/2003 1:00AM

Cat Genius serves notice


NEW ORLEANS - After two knee surgeries, a serious foot problem, and a generally disappointing 2003 campaign, Cat Genius is back on his game.

A powerful two-length allowance win here Saturday - his first victory in nine months - will land Cat Genius back in stakes races, with his next start likely to come Jan. 17 in the Sam Houston Sprint Handicap.

"He's really a warrior," said trainer Tom Amoss, who gave his barn a major assist in Cat Genius's return to form.

Besides the trouble with his knees, Cat Genius ripped a serious chunk off his foot when he overstrode and cut himself at the start of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November 2002. That injury compromised the start of his 3-year-old season this year, and after winning his first start of the year, Cat Genius gradually fell apart.

He was fourth to the good sprinters Posse and Bossanova in the Matt Winn Handicap, a May 10 race at Churchill Downs, but missed four months of racing and showed little spark in two defeats this fall. Cat Genius was better when he set the pace and held third going a mile at Delta Downs in Dec. 5, and his six-furlong allowance triumph here Saturday seemed like a return to his best form. Running against a good group, Cat Genius set a fast pace, but did so comfortably, and he was timed in an excellent 1:09.76 over a track that wasn't producing fast times.

"I think the barn, on and off the track, has done a great job getting him to relax," Amoss said. "A horse can be on the lead and still be relaxed. It's what he's doing on the lead - how much control the rider has - and he was able to settle this time."

Snowdrops resting up for next year

Trainer Christophe Clement wasted little time getting Snowdrops back to Florida after her win last Saturday in the Pago Hop Stakes. Tuesday, Clement said Snowdrops was to get a four- to six-week rest at an Ocala, Fla., farm before returning to training and pointing toward her 4-year-old season.

Her performance in the Pago Hop made Snowdrops a filly to look for next season. She defeated the heavily favored Baie by a half-length, and made a powerful sustained run over the race's final quarter-mile.

"She had run very well in the spring, when she beat Film Maker at Keeneland, but this was her best race," Clement said. "She's a nice filly. The problem with her has been mentally. She should be a very good 4-year-old."

Newcomer cracks top 10

On top of the Fair Grounds jockey standings are the usual suspects: Eddie Martin, Corey Lanerie, Robby Albarado. Through Sunday, Martin led the way with 18 winners, but there in a tie for eighth, with nine winners, is Jose Riquelme, a rider few on this circuit had heard of before November.

Riquelme, a 30-year-old Peruvian, had success in Panama before coming to this country about 2 1/2 years ago. He has ridden at tracks in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but was without winter plans until the trainer Bertrand de Brevedent suggested Riquelme follow him to Fair Grounds for the season.

Riquelme got hooked up with a Louisiana racing habitue named Charles "Big Time Charlie" Moreau, who years ago was a jockey agent. The pair have made a surprising hit, with 63 mounts so far and a regular supply of winners.

"I thought it would be hard, since nobody here knew me, but so far it's been good," Riquelme said. "I like it here."

"I would have been ecstatic to have four wins at this point," Moreau said. "He got down here two weeks early, and he works tirelessly. Friends of mine have given him a chance, and they like him."

Rose of Sophia an overlay no more

Rose of Sophia was 15-1, a huge price for a Cole Norman-trained horse, when she won the Louisiana Champions Day Lassie here Dec. 13. The price goes way down on Saturday when Rose of Sophia takes on eight other Louisiana-bred 2-year-old fillies in the $40,000-added female division of the Louisiana Futurity.

Rose of Sophia was allowed to get away at such long odds last time because Norman does not focus on the Fair Grounds meet, and because she had started her career in a pair of claiming races. But a contested pace set the table for Rose of Sophia, who rallied down the middle of a very wet racetrack to score a 1 1/2-length victory in the Lassie.

Yet few would be surprised to see this filly lose on Saturday. She does not have the sort of form or quality that assures a repeat performance, and many players will look elsewhere. One option is Glitter Queen, who was ninth in the Lassie but who has enough speed to become a dangerous pace factor in the Futurity, which appears to lack pace. Merry Mary, who rallied for third in the Lassie, and the recent maiden winner Our Kathrine also are logical contenders.