02/13/2008 1:00AM

Pitts loses another good 3-year-old

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago, trainer Helen Pitts thought she had a top Kentucky Derby prospect on her hands after sending out Curlin to a near 13-length victory in his career debut. But within days those dreams were gone after Curlin was sold privately and transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen's barn at Fair Grounds.

Pitts dealt with the disappointment in classy fashion, went back about her business, and sure enough developed another possible Derby contender this season. Face the Cat, a son of Tale of the Cat, won a maiden and first-level allowance race for Pitts during the opening month of the Gulfstream Park meet.

But for the second year in a row, Pitts's hopes of experiencing life on the Kentucky Derby trail were dashed before they even got off the ground. On Wednesday morning, a van arrived at Pitts's barn to pick up Face the Cat for the 40-mile journey up the turnpike to trainer Todd Pletcher's training facility at Palm Beach Downs after a majority interest in the colt was sold by owners David and Marilyn Randal to Satish Satan's Padua Stable.

Pitts, naturally, was disappointed.

"I understand the nature of the game and I wish everybody involved with the deal well, but I'll never make it anywhere in this business if I don't get to keep a good horse like this," Pitts said shortly after Face the Cat's departure. "It's horses like him and Curlin that make it worth getting up and coming into work every morning."

As was the case with Curlin, Pitts said it took a lot of hard work and patience to develop Face the Cat.

"He had bucked shins at 2, just like Curlin," Pitts said. "There were a lot of similarities between the two horses. They even had the same groom, Sergio Barajas. The biggest difference is that Face the Cat does just as much as you ask of him while Curlin was kind of an overachiever when we had him.

"Obviously, it's hard to predict whether Face the Cat might turn out to be as good as Curlin. Obviously, horses like that don't come along very often."

Pitts had been pointing Face the Cat for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 24. Pletcher said he's uncertain where Face the Cat will run. Pletcher has Monba penciled in for the Fountain of Youth.

"Obviously, we were impressed with the two races he's run this year, but other than that he just arrived at the barn this morning so I don't know too much else about him," said Pletcher on Wednesday. "We'll work him this weekend and then evaluate the situation. At this point everything is a possibility, including the Fountain of Youth."

Adriano switches to dirt for Fountain

Trainer Graham Motion has decided to pass Saturday's Hallandale Beach Stakes on turf with Adriano and will instead point the 3-year-old colt to the Fountain of Youth.

Adriano, a son of A.P. Indy, is coming off an impressive 6 3/4-length entry-level allowance race over the local turf course on Jan. 11. The Fountain of Youth would mark his first start on conventional dirt.

"I just felt this would be the best time to see how he'll handle the dirt," Motion said Wednesday. "The timing of the race is good, he comes off a good work over the main track at Palm Meadows, which added to the incentive, and the one mile and one-eighth distance of the Fountain of Youth is appealing."

Adriano has posted 2 wins and 1 second in 4 starts on grass. He was also fourth, beaten less than six lengths, over the Polytrack at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at 2.

"The only reason we ran him on grass to start his career last summer was because it was the only way we could get a race around two turns for him at the time," explained Motion. "He's really got a dirt pedigree and has matured an awful lot since then."

Motion also said that Better Talk Now came out of his sixth-place finish in last Saturday's Fair Grounds Handicap in good order and is still under consideration for a trip to Dubai for the Sheema Classic on March 29. Better Talk Now trained up to the Fair Grounds Handicap, his 2007 debut, at Fair Hill, but shipped to Motion's barn at Palm Meadows following the race.

"The race the other day really wasn't a fair test for him," said Motion. "Things really didn't work out as planned. But he ran probably the best race of his life last year off a similar effort, and if he's doing well we'll still consider sending him to Dubai."

Better Talk Now beat English Channel to win the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap after opening his 2007 campaign by finishing fourth in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.