04/29/2008 11:00PM

Ginger Punch deserves a mulligan

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Bobby Frankel couldn't find an excuse for Ginger Punch's disappointing performance in the Apple Blossom Handicap and hopes he won't need one after his Eclipse Award-winning mare returns against much softer opposition in Friday's $300,000 Louisville Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Ginger Punch dueled for the lead before fading badly down the stretch to finish third, beaten eight lengths by Zenyatta, as the 2-5 favorite in Oaklawn Park's Grade 1 Apple Blossom. Winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall, Ginger Punch had opened her 2008 campaign with an easy 6 3/4-length win in Gulfstream Park's Sunshine Millions Distaff.

"I have no real excuse for why she ran so poorly in her last start," said Frankel, who trains Ginger Punch for the Stronach Stable. "Although I wonder if she's just the type of horse who doesn't want to be on the lead like that."

Ginger Punch could have a target to run at in the 1 1/16-mile Louisville if Bayou's Lassie runs. Bayou's Lassie was cross-entered in Saturday's Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile.

Ginger Punch will carry high weight of 124 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Louisville while reuniting with jockey Rafael Bejarano, who guided her to victory in the Breeders' Cup.

"She seems like she's doing really well since her last race, and this looks like a pretty good spot for her," said Frankel.

Ginger Punch is one of two Grade 1 winners in the Louisville field, along with Lear's Princess, who captured the Gazelle at Belmont at 3. Lear's Princess finished 10th in her only previous encounter with Ginger Punch, in the BC Distaff.

A versatile runner, Lear's Princess will return to the main track for the first time this season after opening the year with two starts on grass. Lear's Princess extended former Eclipse Award winner Dreaming of Anna before dropping a tough nose decision in her 2008 debut in the Grade 3 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. She finished far behind Dreaming of Anna four weeks later in Tampa's Grade 3 Hillsborough.

Silver Knockers, who was Grade 1 stakes-placed last summer in New York, may also provide Ginger Punch with some early pace pressure stretching out around two turns for only the second time in her career. Silver Knockers has not started since drawing off to an easy 5 1/4-length win in a second-level allowance going a mile at Gulfstream Park on March 27.

Kettleoneup finished far back in the Apple Blossom but did win the Grade 2 Fall City Handicap in impressive fashion here in November.

Stakes winners Unforgotten and Leah's Secret complete the lineup.