08/18/2002 12:00AM

Cats at Home best in Iselin


OCEANPORT, N.J. - With a satellite stable at Monmouth for the first time this summer, New York trainer Mark Hennig sent Cat's at Home here to start his 5-year-old campaign with an eye on the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap as a long-term goal for the multiple Grade 3 winner.

With three starts over the racetrack leading up to the $350,000 Iselin at Monmouth Sunday, 10-1 Cat's at Home proved his affinity for Monmouth with a wire-to-wire victory by three-quarters of a length over second-choice Bowman's Band. Runspastum was a neck back of Bowman's Band in third.

Include, the lone Grade 1 winner in the field and 1-2 heavy favorite, never fired under jockey Jerry Bailey and finished sixth in the seven-horse field, beaten 16 lengths. Bailey declined to comment and trainer Bud Delp said Include looked to pull up okay as he went to check on him.

After an even start, jockey Jose Velez Jr. seized the lead with Cat's at Home and maintained that position through the first quarter-mile with Gerosa pressing him one length behind. Bowman's Band was racing in tandem with longshot Really Irish and Include at the back of the pack.

After setting moderate fractions of 23.16 and 47.23, Cat's at Home picked up the pace nearing into the final turn, at which point Include was under a steady whip and languishing at the back of the pack on the rail. Bowman's Band made a menacing move three lengths back and Runspastum lodged his bid one-length behind him.

Down the stretch, Cat's at Home dug in strongly along the rail, as Bowman's Band got within a head under left-handed whipping from jockey Eibar Coa, and Runspastum surged along the three-path under Julian Pimentel. The thrilling finish to the wire held, as Cat's at Home remained clear and covered the nine-furlong distance in 1:49.10 before a crowd of 14,174.

"Nobody pressured me so I was able to set the race the way I wanted," said jockey Jose Velez Jr., who rode Cat's at Home for the first time. "At the 5/16 pole I saw someone swinging out behind me so I asked my horse then. I figured the horse angling out behind me was Include, but it wasn't, it was Coa's horse [Bowman's Band]. He got up to me, but my horse just kept digging and digging."

Cat's at Home was a two-time Grade 3 winner last year, but this was his biggest career victory for owner Edward Evans. He increased his earnings to nearly $700,000 with his ninth win in 26 starts. He won the Skip Away Stakes in his only win in three starts here this summer.

Assistant trainer Rob Rader, who saddled the winner for Hennig, said he did not know where Cat's at Home would go next.

* With the late decision after the fifth race by track officials to switch the Continental

Mile (sixth race) and Post Deb Stakes (eighth) off the turf to the main track, because of a soft spot at the top of the lane as reported by the jockeys, those fields were reduced and also left Pick 4 players with non-refundable tickets after that multi-race wager started in the fifth race.

In the Continental Mile for 2-year-olds at one mile, Most Feared ($10.60) entered the race with a one-mile maiden win on the dirt July 17 and ran back to that strong effort with a convincing 9 1/4 length win over My Boy Kyle. Trained by Ronny Werner, Most Feared covered the mile in 1:38.06 under Tommy Turner and earned $30,000 for owner Tom Durant.

To Marquet ($21.60) led wire-to-wire in the $65,000 Regret Stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs with Tommy Turner aboard and was never threatened as she defeated the late-closing Mary's Nickle by 1 1/4 lengths and covered six furlongs in 1:09.63. City Fair was third. To Marquet's last three starts came on the turf, but surely appreciated the switch back to the dirt for trainer Frank Generazio.

Cat Rocket ($36.60) gave trainer Alex DeRosa his first career stakes win and was much the best in the off-the-turf $65,000 Post Deb Stakes as she stalked the pace and romped to an 11 1/2-length victory over Smart Grace. Cat Rocket, ridden by Abdiel Toribio, covered 1 1/16 miles on the dirt in 1:44.94.

Our Wildcat ($19.80) won his third race in a row, but jumped out of the statebred ranks for the first time to defeat a tough field of six other 3-year-olds in the $65,000 Rumson Stakes at six furlongs. With Jose Velez Jr. aboard, Our Wildcat pressed the pace set by Calends and wore him down in the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length and cross the wire in 1:09.35.