04/30/2007 11:00PM

This filly loves a good battle


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Speed horses are typically less effective when hooked on the lead, but Smitty's Sunshine is seemingly one of those rare exceptions. A front-running filly who is unbeaten in four starts in turf sprints, she becomes even more competitive when tested early.

That uncommon trait, as well as her class and consistency, will likely contribute to her starting as the favorite over Mocha Queen and Vague in the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill Downs on Thursday.

A Louisiana-bred 4-year-old daughter of Seeking a Home who was purchased as a yearling for $21,000 by owner Roger G. Smith, Smitty's Sunshine is simply a runner, trainer Morris Nicks said.

She is also blazing fast. In each of her four victories in turf sprints, Smitty's Sunshine has posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 or higher, numbers that suggest she will be difficult to beat in the Mamzelle, a five-furlong turf dash.

She earned a 98 Beyer in her most recent start in the March 10 Bienville Stakes at Fair Grounds, a race she drew away to win by three lengths after being hounded on the lead.

"When you go with her it pumps her up," Nicks said.

That may explain her effectiveness as a turf sprinter. The short distance of these races typically results in a high number of speed horses entering the race, and she gets the early battles Nicks said he believes she relishes.

She won the Pent Up Kiss Stakes over the Churchill course last fall in the same manner. Racing head and head with 24-time winner Nicole's Dream early, she put that one away in the stretch and outlasted Grade 3 stakes winner Beautiful Bets by three-quarters of a length.

Regular rider Robby Albarado returns aboard Smitty's Sunshine, who carries 124 pounds, spotting of her opponents six pounds apiece.

Also proven over the local course is the late-running Mocha Queen, a two-time stakes winner going five furlongs on grass at Churchill. She won the Pent Up Kiss in late 2004, and the Zenobia Empress Handicap in July 2006.

After racing over the Polytrack this past winter at Turfway - where she won 1 of 3 starts - Mocha Queen returns to her preferred surface on turf. Rafael Bejarano rides.

Vague moves from Polytrack to turf after finishing a close fourth in an allowance at Keeneland on April 6. She was a skilled turf sprinter in Europe earlier in her career, and may relish the opportunity to race five furlongs on grass in America.