05/23/2008 11:00PM

Precious Kitten looking for payback


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Plans called for Precious Kitten to win her comeback six weeks ago at Keeneland and lay claim as the country's top female grass runner.

She never had a chance. A two-time Grade 1 winner favored in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley, Precious Kitten broke from post 8 and ran straight into a nightmare.

"I had a bad trip," jockey Rafael Bejarano said, shaking his head at the memory.

It was bad, extremely bad. Bejarano wanted to save ground, but every time he tried to move in, a horse was in the way. Instead of a rail trip, Precious Kitten raced five wide throughout the 1 1/16-mile race. Despite the loss of ground, she lost by only 1 3/4 lengths to the rail-skimming winner Rutherienne.

Monday is payback time. The scene shifts to Hollywood Park, where Precious Kitten figures to beat Rutherienne in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Precious Kitten was compromised by racing luck last out, but circumstances Monday are highly favorable for her.

The lone front-runner in a field of five, Precious Kitten will be favored to lead wire to wire and give trainer Bobby Frankel his eighth Gamely victory. A win Monday would be the first for Precious Kitten since she was purchased by Roy and Gretchen Jackson (Lael Stables) from Ken Ramsey.

Precious Kitten, 5, has won seven races and more than $1.4 million from 20 starts. Her main nemesis is Rutherienne, a nine-time winner of 11 starts with earnings of $744,975 for trainer Christophe Clemente and owner Virginia Kraft Payson.

Three other starters are Diamond Diva, 2 for 2 in the U.S. and coming in off a win in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap; Grade 2-placed Lavender Sky, who ran poorly last out; and closer Solva.

Bejarano has ridden Precious Kitten 12 times.

"My filly definitely likes to be close [to the pace]," he said.

Unexpectedly, her style led to two recent bad trips. At Keeneland, she was trapped outside front-runner Bit of Whimsy. Three starts back, in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, a rival bolted on the clubhouse turn and eliminated Precious Kitten.

But when things do go her way, as they figure to on Monday, Precious Kitten is top class. Her Grade 1 wins include the one-mile Matriarch last fall at Hollywood, and the 1 1/8-mile John C. Mabee Handicap last summer at Del Mar.

Rutherienne has won 9 of 11, and is returning to California for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last summer under Corey Nakatani, who rides her back on Monday.

Diamond Diva moves up in class for trainer Jim Cassidy after a sharp win April 23 in the Grade 3 Wilshire. Cassidy was asked if the 1 1/8-mile distance is a concern, considering she has never raced beyond a mile.

"It depends on how much speed is in there," Cassidy said. "If we can get her to relax, it will be a good thing."

Mike Smith rides Diamond Diva, who will be positioned closest to the front-runner and therefore the first to attack.