03/11/2008 12:00AM

Post 11 tricky for French Kiss


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Gary Hartlage feels good about the variables he can control with the promising French Kiss heading into her 3-year-old debut Thursday at Oaklawn Park. The one he can't concerns him.

French Kiss will have to overcome the far outside post when she runs in the featured ninth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance for 3-year-old fillies.

The race drew a competitive group of 11, including Apple Martini, who was fourth to Sky Mom last out in the first division of the $50,000 Martha Washington Stakes here, and Dancing Fern, who makes her two-turn debut following two strong six-furlong races this meet for trainer Tim Ritchey.

French Kiss is a half-sister to High Heels, the recently retired filly who last year at 3 won the Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn and went on to finish third in the Kentucky Oaks. Thursday's race will be French Kiss's first start since Nov. 24, when she was sixth to the undefeated Pure Clan in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs. Following that race, French Kiss was found to have a small bone chip in her left front ankle that has since been removed, said Hartlage.

"She's come back good," he said. "She ought to be fit. I've worked her seven-eighths twice. She should be ready. The main thing is going to be the 11-hole and saving the ground and how the trip comes out, you know. When the gates open, that will be up to [jockey] Joe [Johnson]."

During the meet, horses breaking from posts 10-12 in two-turn races are a collective 3 for 71 (4 percent).

French Kiss was third in the $50,000 Anna M. Fisher Debutante at seven furlongs at Ellis Park in her third career out last August. She won for the first time three starts later, in 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill. French Kiss rallied for a 6 3/4-length win and earned a career-best 79 Beyer Speed Figure.

"When she won at Churchill, she was stalking," said Hartlage. "I would say we might have to come from farther off the pace Thursday just because of our post position, because you don't want to blow it all on the first turn. So, hopefully there's a good pace in front of us and we can get something done."

Anita Ebert Cauley bred and owns French Kiss, as well as High Heels. Both fillies are out of the stakes-winning mare Ornate, with High Heels being by the sire E Dubai and French Kiss being a daughter of Hussonet.