10/03/2007 11:00PM

Contention runs deep in First Lady

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - The "Win and You're In" provision pegged to the Grade 2 First Lady looks a little like overkill. As perhaps the deepest and most demanding of the five stakes set for Saturday at Keeneland, the $400,000 First Lady appears highly likely to be won by a major contender for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, which would seem to render moot the idea of giving the winner an automatic berth in that race.

The field of nine includes Precious Kitten, Lady of Venice, and Vacare.

It has been nearly 14 months since Precious Kitten finished worse than second, a string that encompasses eight stakes, all but one of them graded.

"She's really gotten to be a top filly," said Bobby Frankel, who trains Precious Kitten for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. "She's proven herself to be an awfully nice filly."

Lady of Venice, a sensational winner of the Grade 2 CashCall Mile two starts back, finished third in a typically tough edition of the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. and turns back to a more preferred distance in the one-mile First Lady. Martin Schwartz and Patrick Biancone, the same owner-trainer team that swept the Beverly D. and First Lady last year with Gorella, are confident of repeating this year with Lady of Venice, whose local work pattern has been particularly sharp in recent weeks.

"Last year Patrick said I could have Gorella, but he wanted Lady of Venice for himself," said Schwartz. "That's how much he's always thought of her."

Vacare had the Keeneland spotlight to herself on a sunny Saturday last fall when she remained unbeaten by capturing the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Since then, quite a few things have changed - she has been privately purchased, moved from Chris Block to Christophe Clement, and incurred the first two losses of her career - but one thing that hasn't changed is her ability to run. Off a solid runner-up finish to Wait a While in her last start, the Ballston Spa at Saratoga, Vacare figures as a major threat Saturday.

Precious Kitten has ample speed and figures very close to, if not on, the early lead under Rafael Bejarano. But the more likely pacesetter is Quite a Bride, a Bill Mott-trained filly who has won 3 of 5 starts this year. Quite a Bride led all the way in setting a Churchill Downs turf course record in June in the Mint Julep Handicap.

Probably the most intriguing entrant is Ermine, a highly accomplished filly on dirt but one who has never raced on grass.

"We picked a good spot, didn't we?" trainer Ronny Werner said with a laugh. "Yeah, it's about as tough a spot as it gets."

Werner noted that Ermine has not raced since July 28, and that he is running her in the First Lady because he didn't think she'd be ready to run the 1 1/8 miles of the Spinster on the main track Sunday.

The field is completed by Honour Colony, Arravale, Beautiful Venue, and Quiet Royal.

The First Lady kicks off the late pick four as the seventh of 10 races.