01/28/2005 1:00AM

Dancing Liebling tough on or off the turf


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Steve Asmussen appears to have found an ideal spot for Dancing Liebling in Sunday's feature race at Fair Grounds, a $62,500 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

The three-other-than condition should be an easier spot than her last race, the Pago Hop Stakes, where Dancing Liebling was overmatched by Shadow Cast. Dancing Liebling breezed through her previous condition in November at Churchill Downs.

With rain in the forecast the possibility that the race might be switched to a mile on the main track only enhances Dancing Liebling's chances. She's won one off-the-turf race and finished third in two others, including the Summer Prom Stakes at Hawthorne.

Are You Home, also trained by Asmussen, is an uncoupled entrymate who has plenty of grass experience. A 5-year-old El Prado mare, she is 3-2-3 in 14 lifetime grass starts.

Asmussen's main rival appears to be a horse he used to train - Chitchat Chitchat, who is going for her third straight victory since being claimed from Asmussen for $30,000 by trainer Gamaliel Vazquez and owner Michael Gill.

A 5-year-old mare by Arch, Chitchat Chitchat has also won on both turf and dirt. She is one of two horses in the race entered for the $62,500 tag. The other, Very Very, is a 6-year-old mare trained by William Fires who usually runs hard but often runs out of real estate.

Dress to Impress is the biggest money-winner on grass in the field. A 5-year-old Formal Gold mare, she has earned $161,575 in 13 turf starts, but has been off since October and was blanked in 2004.

The lightly raced Witch Approval, a 5-year-old With Approval mare who has 2 wins and 2 seconds in 6 turf starts, won a $40,000 optional claimer two starts ago and failed in an $80,000 claimer last out.

Jaguar City, Twilight Gallop, and Gamble to Victory have never won on grass.

The Oaklawn Express is running

The annual exodus of horses shipping from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn Park has begun. In Oaklawn's first week on racing, 26 starters had their previous race at Fair Grounds. Five were winners, two finished second, and three were third.

Asmussen got two victories, with Bag and El Batallon. The trip from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn Park takes about 10 hours by van.

Cat thief?

Every barn on the backstretch has its pets, useful and horse-friendly animals such as cats or goats. The horses and barn workers become extremely attached to them. That's why a couple of barns are looking for what workers think is a backstretch cat thief making off with their felines. Alice Cohn's favorite cat, Roscoe, for example, disappeared from Barn 20.

"We're sure he was taken," she said, "because he always stayed right at home. Even when we ship, our other cat, Beaudelaire, usually hides somewhere, but Roscoe is always right in the middle of things. He was born at Keeneland and he's been shipping back and forth with us for four or five years. He used to sleep in the stall with our horse Bayou Buster."

Roscoe is black with a white chest and legs and a black patch on his back right leg.

Over at Barn 11, Ike Bailey has had two of his cats, both named Rat, disappear recently. "The second one was a kitten," he said. "He was too nice. I've got to train them to be mean and scratch you like that one," he said, pointing to an orange cat who loped by in the barn. Bailey has posted a $200 reward for the second Rat, a mackerel tabby about six months old. "I'm offering $100 for the cat, and $100 for anybody who tells me who took him," he said.