10/20/2006 12:00AM

Meribel turns tables on Precious Kitten


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When last they met in the Martha Washington Stakes three weeks ago at Laurel Park, Precious Kitten defeated Meribel by a neck.

That result was reversed Friday at Keeneland when Meribel, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was along in the final strides to capture the Grade 3, $125,000 Valley View Stakes by a half-length over Precious Kitten in a race switched from the turf to Polytrack.

Despite 11 of the more talented 3-year-old turf fillies in North America trying to overshadow their budding rivalry, the 1 1/16-mile Valley View once again boiled down to Precious Kitten trying to hold off Meribel, who had trailed for much of the way before launching her winning outside run. May Night finished third, another half-length back.

The winning time was 1:42.95.

Meribel, owned by Arthur Hancock III and Catesby Clay, edged clear for her fourth win from 10 career starts and returned $6.20 as the favorite. She is based in New York with Christophe Clement, who teamed with Gomez on Thursday to win the Franklin County Stakes with Society Miss.

"As time went on, this filly has just gotten better and better," said Gomez.

Despite the move to Polytrack, none of the 13 entrants was scratched. Keeneland officials announced they had received notification from the North American Graded Stakes Committee that despite the surface switch the Valley View will retain its Grade 3 status.

Bejarano recuperates quickly

Jockey Rafael Bejarano took off four of his mounts Friday after hurting his tailbone when he took a spill soon after the start of the second race. After taking whirlpool treatments for the injury, Bejarano was back to ride in the seventh race, and he later was aboard the victorious Starlet Sky ($5) in the 10th.

Bejarano was hurt when Academy Talks, a 2-year-old Royal Academy colt making his second career start, swerved in badly leaving the seven-furlong chute, crashing into the temporary railing. Academy Talks, trained by Eddie Kenneally, had to be euthanized due to injuries sustained in the mishap.

After Friday, Bejarano trailed Julien Leparoux by a 21-19 count atop the jockey standings. The two tied for the riding title at the spring meet here.

Front-running winners still scarce

The loss of Academy Talks put a damper on what has been a terrific year for Kenneally. Later Friday, he won an allowance race with Taletobetold ($4.80), a promising 2-year-old filly by Tale of the Cat, and the day before, he became one of a handful of trainers to saddle a front-running winner over the Keeneland Polytrack when Mary Delaney won an allowance race.

"There hasn't been too many of those, has there?" asked Kenneally, the Irish native who is enjoying easily his best season from 13 years of training in the U.S. Through Thursday, Kenneally's stable had earned more than $1.5 million, much of it from standouts such as Bushfire, Kelly's Landing, and Irene's Mon.

After the Friday card, 88 races had been run on Polytrack, yielding just five winners who led at the first call. Before Mary Delaney, those winners were Cat and a Half (fourth race, Oct. 8), Straight Line (third race, Oct. 14), Sweet on Bertie (first race, Oct. 15), and War Tracer (sixth race, Oct. 18).

All-Star lineup of announcers set

Churchill Downs has released the roster of race-callers for the annual All-Star Announcers Day, set for Friday, Nov. 3, the day before the Breeders' Cup. Those callers are Mike Battaglia from Turfway Park, Michael Chamberlin (Sam Houston), Larry Collmus (Monmouth and Suffolk), John G. Dooley (Arlington and Fair Grounds), Bill Downes (Beulah), Dave Johnson (Meadowlands), Luke Kruytbosch (Churchill), Jon Lies (Lone Star), Dan Loiselle (Woodbine), and Travis Stone (Louisiana Downs). Each will call one race on the card.

Post time for the day is 11:20 a.m. Eastern.

No turf racing a rarity

The transferal of both Friday turf races to Polytrack marked the second straight day that Keeneland officials made such an unusual move. The Franklin County also was taken off the turf Thursday, but before that, there had been only four instances since the turf course was installed for the 1985 fall meet that turf races were switched off.

Those other dates were April 4, 1987, because of snow; Oct. 19, 1989 (wet); Oct. 12, 1990 (wet); and Oct. 27, 1995 (all races except for a stakes race, heavy rain).

* Trainer Steve Flint said Friday that Change Up, who had been a fringe candidate for the BC Juvenile Fillies, will instead run in the Pocahontas Stakes next Sunday, opening day at Churchill. Gomez will have the mount.Steelers key four-team parlayP