01/12/2007 12:00AM

Catch her to beat her

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ALBANY, Calif. - There are two things trainer O.J. Jauregui knows about Cut the Mustard: she may be the quickest mare in northern California, and she always gives her best.

Those are two pretty good qualities to have, and she makes her 2007 debut against nine rivals in a six-furlong $50,000 optional claimer.

Cut the Mustard earned $129,025 while winning 5 of 14 starts last year. Her two poor efforts came in stakes races when she faded after rapid opening half-miles.

Light My Ducks is her primary pace rival Sunday, but when the two met in a five-furlong turf race on Nov. 26, Cut the Mustard scored a wire-to-wire victory from the rail. On Saturday, she is drawn outside Light My Ducks, which should make getting the lead easier for her.

"That's an advantage we'll try to take," said Jauregui, who won at a 20 percent clip last year.

"She's very fast. Not many can go with her in the first part."

Cut the Mustard comes off a third-place finish in a Dec. 7 $80,000 optional claimer at what may be her best distance, five furlongs on the turf. She had a two-length lead in the lane.

"The last part, they got to her," said Jauregui. "I knew I was bringing her back a little quickly, in only 11 days, but I wanted one more chance to run her at five furlongs on the turf.

"I backed off a little bit, and she's training well."

Cut the Mustard got three weeks of easy jogging, then sharpened her speed with a 35.80 three-furlong work and earned a bullet with a 1:00.60 five-furlong drill on Jan. 3.

"I've found if I back off a little bit, she runs well," Jauregui said. "She's getting easier to train. She used to be real nervous, but she isn't anymore. When you want her to train, she does. When she rests, she rests."

Jauregui expects a good race. Cut the Mustard is 3-for-5 here with a second and third.

"She's always run well here, probably because she trains here," he said.

Stakes-placed Bid of Genius will get a first-run trip on the leaders, which could make her Cut the Mustard's toughest competition in the lane. Princess Lianna beat Cut the Mustard twice last year, but is not in her best form.

Also in the race are Run for Dessert, Sweet Ambition, and Apollonesian.