11/13/2004 12:00AM

River Belle hangs on to score

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - British jockey Kieren Fallon, who rode in California as an apprentice in 1996, has always loved America. After winning two races Saturday at Churchill Downs, including the Grade 2, $171,150 aboard River Belle, he loves it even more.

With the top three finishers running inches apart, River Belle needed a perfect trip under Fallon to win by a nose over Lenatareese. River Belle was placed in a favorable position early, in fourth behind contested fractions of 48.30 seconds and 1:13.48 over a "good" turf course.

As early leader Black Rock Road began to tire on the turn, Fallon swung River Belle into a clear path on the outside, and River Belle grinded out a narrow victory, holding off late surges from Lenatareese and Cape Town Lass. Cape Town Lass finished third, a nose behind Lenatareese.

River Belle, trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Team Valor Stables and William Heiligbrodt, won for the fourth time in eight starts. She raced 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.59, paying $5.20 for her first graded stakes victory in America.

Fallon, who won on River Belle twice last year, when she raced in England, was given the Mrs. Revere mount after a riding boycott by some jockeys began earlier in the week in protest of insurance coverage.

Fallon said he was sympathetic to American jockeys who could not afford to purchase expanded insurance, but he did not support riders protesting when they can afford to purchase insurance. Jockeys are responsible for their own insurance in England, he said.

* Earlier on the card, Mocha Queen rallied from ninth to win the five-furlong Pent Up Kiss, a $67,600 overnight handicap on turf.

Capitalizing on a contested pace, Mocha Queen caught early leaders Dyna Da Wyna and Nicole's Dream in the stretch and outfinished Black Escort for a three-quarter-length victory. Favored Dyna Da Wyna was third.

Mocha Queen raced five furlongs on turf in 58.02, paying $17.20. The Pent Up Kiss was her first stakes victory.