11/17/2005 1:00AM

Clouded form makes Delta Princess attractive


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There are no stars in Saturday's Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs - which makes it a great race on which to wager. A field of 12, plus four also-eligibles, has been assembled, and in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness, the race has to rank as one of the best wagering contests seen on the Kentucky circuit this year.

So which way to lean? Toward Delta Princess, a "value" mare whose odds should be a tick or two higher on the board than they should.

The queen of the Churchill turf in the spring, when she consecutively won the Locust Grove and Mint Julep handicaps, Delta Princess comes into this 1 1/8-mile grass race off three straight losses - defeats that darken her form. But to my eyes, she hasn't lost a step - she has only had the misfortune of facing demanding opposition and, in her last start, getting a troubled trip.

After her strong spring meet here, trainer Bill Mott - who also starts Noisette in the Cardinal - turned aggressive with her, placing her in the Grade 1 Diana and Grade 3 Ballston Spa at Saratoga. Despite being outrun both times, she ran respectably, finishing sixth, beaten four lengths, in the Diana, and a close third in the Ballston Spa.

In particular, I liked her Ballston Spa. She closed to finish within 1 1/2 lengths of Alinghi, a talented Australian import.

Off that race, she figured to bounce back to the winner's circle against softer in the Grade 3 Violet at The Meadowlands on Oct. 21, but she was left with far too much to do late in the race. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez had her in 11th, six lengths off the pace, as the field left the final turn in a slow-paced race. She needed to pass 10 rivals to win; she passed nine. Taking into account how the race unfolded, her runner-up finish to Humoristic was a good effort.

Beyond her somewhat clouded form, what makes her a probable overlay? The presence of Movie Star and Katdogawn - two starters who figure to be well fancied by the betting public.

The virtues of both are obvious. Coming off a victory in a division of the Navajo Princess at The Meadowlands, the Bobby Frankel-trained Movie Star owns the best last-out Beyer in the race, a 100. Katdogawn, meanwhile, comes off a third in the WinStar Galaxy behind eventual Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Intercontinental.

They are legitimately good horses, but each figures to be slightly overbet, for different reasons. Movie Star will likely be hammered off the lone North American race in her past performances, with bettors forgetting that she lost more than she won when she was based in Brazil before coming to the States. And as for Katdogawn, she certainly ran well to be third to Intercontinental in the WinStar Galaxy, but that company line is all too obvious.

Keep in mind that Delta Princess ran within a length of Intercontinental earlier in the year. Granted, the two races came six months apart, but as a rough measuring stick, it puts Katdogawn and Delta Princess on close to even terms.

To win the Cardinal, Delta Princess will need a smooth trip, which isn't always easy for a late-running horse. And Katdogawn and Movie Star are not the only ones that pose a threat. Humoristic, who just beat Delta Princess at The Meadowlands, is back, and Finery, Stage Shy, and Sundrop also add class to the field.

Delta Princess merits a slight edge. She's honest, proven over the course, and likely to start as a mild overlay. She is also reunited with jockey Robby Albarado, who piloted her to a victory in the Mint Julep.

One favorite, one longshot in Caressing

In contrast, the Caressing Stakes for 2-year-old fillies earlier on the card has what looks like a clear but short-priced winner: Dyna's Destiny. Third in the Jessamine County Stakes at Keeneland, she benefits from drawing into a field that does not include the two fillies who finished in front of her in the Jessamine County, J'Ray and Beau Dare.

I also like first-time turf starter Lady Danza, who is out of a grass-winning mare. She comes off a close fourth at 68-1 in the Pocahontas Stakes. She won't be that price in the Caressing, but will likely start at 10-1 or so.

Both merit play in the exotics.