07/04/2005 12:00AM

Kitten's Joy back a winner in Firecracker

Kitten's Joy, Edgar Prado up, posts a length victory in the Firecracker BC Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Reigning turf champion Kitten's Joy made a successful return to action Monday with a thoroughly professional victory in the $274,000 at Churchill Downs.

With Edgar Prado sitting cool through the first six furlongs, Kitten's Joy never had to leave the hedge. He surged past the front-running longshot Parker Run in midstretch before holding off Old Forester by a length. The Grade 2 Firecracker BC was the first race for Kitten's Joy since he finished second as the odds-on favorite in the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Turf and subsequently was named the Eclipse champion as top older turf horse of 2004.

Kitten's Joy, bred and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, returned $3.20 to win after finishing one mile in 1:35.25 over a firm turf course.

"I was very impressed with him, just like I always am," said winning trainer Dale Romans. "He did everything I expected of him today. It was great to see him come back like that."

Kitten's Joy, spotting his rivals five to 11 pounds as the 124-pound highweight, broke cleanly from post 4 before settling into a rhythmic stride in fourth. Until turning for home, Prado was content to wait five or six lengths behind Parker Run, but Kitten's Joy was quick to progress down the stretch, and with 100 yards to go, it was his race to lose. Old Forester, the 2-1 second choice, made a mild late bid under Pat Day but was never a real threat.

America Alive rallied late to finish third, followed by Parker Run, Senor Swinger, and Mighty Military.

Kitten's Joy, a 4-year-old by El Prado, now has won 9 of 11 turf starts, and 9 of 13 overall. The Aug. 13 Arlington Million is the colt's next scheduled start, with a return to the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Turf being the long-range goal. His career earnings stand at $1,875,791.

One race earlier, Artemus Sunrise ($13.40), ridden by Rafael Bejarano, gamely held off Fantasticat by a half-length to win a $48,200 third-level allowance. Artemus Sunrise, owned by Thad Ackel and trained by Steve Flint, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.86 over a fast track.

* X-rays taken Monday on Mark Guidry were negative after the jockey was thrown from his scheduled mount, Commander Robin, before the third race. Guidry is "day to day" with a sore tailbone, said his agent, Fred Aime.