07/07/2004 11:00PM

Kentucky turfers head east

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For the past three months, Kitten's Joy and Prince Arch have reigned as the two best 3-year-old grass horses in Kentucky. Saturday they get tested against other top 3-year-olds on turf when they compete against Northeastern-based stakes winners Commendation and Artie Schiller in the Grade 3, $500,000 at Colonial Downs.

Prince Arch and Kitten's Joy have faced each other three times, with Kitten's Joy prevailing in the first two matchups. But in their last race, the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup on June 12, Prince Arch came out on top.

Benefiting from a ground-saving trip over a yielding turf course, Prince Arch swung to the outside for the stretch and rallied to defeat Kitten's Joy by a head in the closing yards of the 1 1/8-mile race at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Ken McPeek said more recovery time heading into the Jefferson Cup proved to be the key to victory. When Kitten's Joy beat Prince Arch handily in the Crown Royal American Turf, the race preceding the Jefferson Cup, Prince Arch raced on two weeks' rest, wheras Kitten's Joy came into the race fresh.

With nearly a month between races, McPeek says he expects another top effort from Prince Arch in the Virginia Derby.

"At a mile and a quarter he will be even more formidable," McPeek said. Regular rider Brice Blanc has the mount.

Although beaten for the first time in six starts on grass in the Jefferson Cup, Kitten's Joy lost little in defeat. An outside draw and poor racing luck contributed to a four-wide trip around both turns. Then, upon making the lead in the stretch, he seemed to relax and could not recover in time to repel the onrushing Prince Arch. Edgar Prado rides Kitten's Joy.

New York invader Artie Schiller appears the best of the eight opponents facing Prince Arch and Kitten's Joy. A son of El Prado, he has won three consecutive turf races since May 1.

In his last race, the 1 1/8-mile Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont on June 6, Artie Schiller coasted on the lead with an easy six furlongs in 1:16.05 before exploding late, covering his final three-eighths in 34.01 seconds. He raced 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.06, earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure - just off the 100 Beyers earned by Prince Arch and Kitten's Joy in the Jefferson Cup.

Artie Schiller is 5 for 6 on turf. Richard Migliore, aboard for all five victories, has been named to ride by trainer James Jerkens.

Saturday's card also includes the $200,000 Virginia Oaks and the Grade 3, $200,000 All Along Breeders' Cup.