05/10/2004 11:00PM

'Nice Cat' on a roll for Werner

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Last October, One Nice Cat was an undistinguished maiden. Winless in six starts, he came into the fall Churchill Downs meet following five consecutive off-the-board finishes.

A little more than six months later, appears likely to start as the favorite in Thursday's featured ninth race at Churchill Downs, a $52,900 two-other-than allowance at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

A 4-year-old son of Storm Cat out of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Jewel Princess, One Nice Cat always had the pedigree to be a top horse. He just didn't show it.

First based in Ireland with Aidan O'Brien, he underachieved in three starts. Purchased privately and sent to America, he fared just as poorly for trainer LeRoy Jolley in his first three starts here.

But his fortunes have turned around since joining the Ronny Werner barn last fall. Since then, he has recorded two wins, three thirds, and a fourth in six races. Included among those strong efforts was a third-place finish in the Mardi Gras Handicap at Fair Grounds.

Most recently, he finished third behind Roses in May in an April 17 allowance at Keeneland. Although beaten 13 lengths, he ran well, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. Roses in May, a winner of 3 of 6 starts, earned a 113 Beyer.

The question for One Nice Cat is the move from dirt to turf. He won his lone grass start in the U.S., but it was a workmanlike victory. He won his maiden by a length over the Churchill Downs turf course Nov. 22, getting a 78 Beyer.

He was entered in a couple races scheduled for turf in New Orleans last winter, including the Mardi Gras Handicap, but inclement weather resulted in those races being moved to the main track.

One horse who is much better on turf than dirt is . A winner of 1 of 6 races on dirt, he moved up with a striking 6 1/4-length romp in an entry-level allowance over the Churchill turf April 29.

Coming from just off the pace, he dragged jockey John McKee to the lead coming into the stretch and drew off with authority to earn a 91 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest grass Beyer of any starter.

The horse to catch is Shake the Bank, who weakened to fifth in similar allowance April 24 after setting a fast pace.