09/18/2009 12:00AM

Nehantic Kat nearing division top

Barbara D. Livingston
Nehantic Kat managed to win the Yaddo on Aug. 23 despite encountering significant trouble.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Unlike the New York-bred male turf division where Banrock reigns, the statebred filly and mare turf division lacks a clear leader. Come sunset Sunday, that spot could belong to Nehantic Kat, who heads an eight-horse field of New York-bred fillies and mares entered in the $100,000 John Hettinger Stakes at Belmont Park.

In the Hettinger, at 1 1/8 miles, Nehantic Kat faces six of the same horses she defeated in last month's Yaddo Handicap at Saratoga plus Borrowing Base. Nehantic Kat may have endured the worst trip of any in the Yaddo.

Racing farther off the pace than she previously had - due in large part to Love Cove and Stormy Relations spurting away from the field early on - Nehantic Kat was launching a bid entering the far turn when Crazy Catlady, under Jose Lezcano, steadied and came over on Nehantic Kat, nearly putting her and jockey Rajiv Maragh into the rail.

Maragh allowed Nehantic Kat to gather herself for a few strides, brought her five wide for the stretch drive, where the 6-year-old mare unleashed a powerful kick that carried her to a 1 1/2-length victory over Vivi's Book.

"We were holding our breath when that happened," said Robin Smullen, assistant to Barclay Tagg, trainer of Nehantic Kat. "I was surprised she had that turn of foot after that happened.''

It was Nehantic Kat's second straight win over New York-breds. On June 25, she won the Sabellina Stakes by four lengths over the Belmont turf course. In between those two races, Nehantic Kat finished fourth in the Donor Stakes against open company at 1 1/4 miles. In that race, Nehantic Kat was rank entering the first turn and raced three to four wide throughout.

Nehantic Kat, the 123-pound highweight, will break from post 7 under Maragh.

Though Love Cove and Stormy Relations return in the Hettinger, the pace figures to develop differently. While trainer Tom Albertrani wanted Love Cove forwardly placed in the Yaddo he didn't want her as hard-used early as she was by Javier Castellano. Thus, Albertrani is switching back to Kent Desormeaux for the Hettinger.

"We'll let her run where she's comfortable," Albertrani said. "She's got enough early foot to be up close if she wants.''

Chestoria may have moved prematurely when fourth in the Yaddo. She returns to Belmont, where she has recorded four of her six career victories. Crazy Catlady also likes Belmont and did well to be third after steadying in the Yaddo over soft ground.