02/18/2002 1:00AM

Nice Boots Baby, last at 2-5, returns with sore hip


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Nice Boots Baby may have an excuse for her last-place finish as the 2-5 favorite in Saturday's Dearly Precious Stakes at Aqueduct.

"She's very sensitive on her right hip," trainer Tony Dutrow said Monday. "We're going to send her to New Bolton [Equine Clinic] for a bone scan. She's not lame, but she's sensitive on her right hip as though she possibly banged herself in the gate."

Nice Boots Baby was undefeated in three starts including a victory in the Ruthless Stakes entering the Dearly Precious. She broke slowly, was then rushed up and took a half-length lead after running an opening quarter in 22.70 seconds. But after contesting the pace for the first half-mile she backed up and finished last, 12 1/4 lengths behind Proper Gamble.

"You knew something wasn't right," Dutrow said. "So I hope it's not serious and a little [rest and relaxation] will take care of it."

Proper Gamble came out of her win in good order, according to assistant trainer John Hassett. Hassett said Proper Gamble would be nominated to both the Busher Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 2 and the Cicada, a seven-furlong race over the main track on March 23.

Dutrow has two for Best Turn

The Maryland-based Dutrow, who has won three stakes this winter, will be back again this weekend to take two shots at Saturday's $75,000 Best Turn Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings.

Dutrow will send out Smooth Jazz and War Native in the Best Turn, run at six furlongs. Smooth Jazz, a son of Storm Boot, won his only start by 2 1/4 lengths here on Jan. 13, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 82.

"I thought all along this horse was a nice horse and even after one race, though he's lacking seasoning and experience I'm willing to run him up there in a stakes," said Dutrow, who worked Smooth Jazz four furlongs in 48.20 seconds on Sunday at Laurel.

War Native, a son of Cherokee Run, has won two of five starts including the restricted Rollicking Stakes last November at Laurel Park. He is coming off a third-place finish in the Fred Capossela Stakes here on Jan. 21.

"He finished up running which didn't surprise me and I was not discouraged by his race," Dutrow said. "But I don't think he's as good a horse as Smooth Jazz."

Dutrow said Mario Pino would ride Smooth Jazz and Norberto Arroyo Jr. would ride War Native.

Others expected to run in the Best Turn are Cool Cash, Double My Prospect, Eye of the Comet, Final Table, President Butler and Tank's Expectation.

* After racing on Monday, Presidents' Day, Aqueduct will be dark on Wednesday before resuming racing on Thursday.