10/23/2006 11:00PM

Katerbug tries to stay perfect

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky homecoming of native son Rusty Arnold has gone largely unnoticed as the Keeneland fall meet has unfolded, but no worries. The irascible Arnold isn't much for the fanfare that follows some of his fellow trainers, but as long as his horses are doing well, he will be just fine, too.

Arnold, who announced last month that he was pulling his stable out of New York after 22 years, has returned his permanent base to Keeneland, where his training career started a little more than 30 years ago. Now 51, he has recorded more than 1,350 victories, including seven stakes at Keeneland, where on Thursday he will try to add an eighth when he sends out Katerbug as a major contender in the featured Jessamine Stakes.

Katerbug, with Julien Leparoux to ride, is one of nine 2-year-old fillies entered in the $125,000 Jessamine, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that anchors a nine-race card. In each of her two previous starts, Katerbug proved narrowly best after lengthy stretch duels, and she is the lone unbeaten runner in the Jessamine field.

Jack Bohannan, a longtime Arnold assistant, oversaw the training of Katerbug at Churchill Downs before the Pulpit filly shifted into Arnold's main string at Keeneland on the evening of her half-length allowance victory on opening day of the meet.

"She's really improved as she's gone along," said Bohannan. "Both times she's won, she got to the front and then wouldn't let anything by. She's already shown she's a pretty gutsy little horse."

Katerbug, bred and owned by longtime client G. Watts Humphrey, was assigned post 8 in a field that figures to have Audacious Chloe (post 2), with John Velazquez in from New York to ride for Todd Pletcher, as the post-time favorite. Pletcher also entered Brushed Gold (post 1), but she seems doubtful to start, considering she just raced Sunday when finishing sixth as the favorite in the Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont Park.

Audacious Chloe, on the other hand, is fresh, having gone unraced since winning the Aug. 20 Junior Champion Stakes on the Monmouth Park turf course. Owned in partnership by Team Valor, Audacious Chloe had raced three times on dirt before making her grass debut in that most recent race.

Three allowances (races 6, 7, and 9) surround the Jessamine on a program that begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. The meet runs through Saturday, then action on the Kentucky circuit shifts the next day to Churchill in Louisville.