05/26/2008 11:00PM

A stalk-and-pounce double


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Gamely and Bill Shoemaker made a perfect pair back in 1967 when he was aboard the mountainous Bold Ruler filly to win her first race at Santa Anita, the Princess Stakes at Hollywood Park, and then the historic Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

The memories linger, and were rekindled anew on Monday at Hollywood Park when the Gamely Stakes and the Shoemaker Mile provided artistic bookends to the holiday program. Contested three hours apart, the two races unfolded as brother and sister versions of the same swift scenario, with classy front-runners giving way late to steady pressure from close behind.

If nothing else, the Grade 1 Shoemaker struck a blow for the removal of testicles and the pleasures of watching Thoroughbreds race instead of syndicate. Since geldings finished one-two-three, the principal players won't be going anywhere for a while.

Daytona, now 6 for his last 7, won it by 1 1/2 lengths after laying hard on Kilroe Mile winner Ever a Friend from the start. It was one of those old-fashioned, bring your best game kind of races, with everything up for grabs until the final 100 yards.

"I knew when they went 23 and change and he was so relaxed, I wasn't worried," said Dan Hendricks, who has the pleasure of training Daytona.

Indeed, it was that first, relatively modest quarter into the sharp first turn that set the table for Daytona's effort. Once onto the backstretch, the two leaders let loose successive quarters in 22.80 and 22.95 seconds, never leaving each other's side. Tyler Baze tried to shake loose with Ever a Friend at the final furlong marker, but Alex Solis had them measured, and had the horse. Hyperbaric, who nearly beat Daytona in the Arcadia at Santa Anita, was a neck back of Ever a Friend at the end.

For the Gamely, the challenge was thrown down early, while the tote board overlooking the paddock spread the wealth among Diamond Diva, Rutherienne, and Precious Kitten, the choice.

"If the favorite doesn't go, we will," said trainer Jim Cassidy as he prepared to give Mike Smith a leg up on Diamond Diva. He wasn't kidding.

A sleek British lass with a lot of leg, Diamond Diva ran essentially the same mile time in the Gamely that she did in winning the Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park on April 23. The Gamely, however, was 1 1/8 miles, and in the Wilshire, Diamond Diva was the pursuer, not the pursued.

While Smith tried to ration Diamond Diva's speed, Rafael Bejarano had Precious Kitten drafting comfortably behind, in a world of her own. Diamond Diva hit the three-quarter mark in 1:08.44 and soldiered on for another furlong, but by then she was raw meat hanging from a tree, and Precious Kitten definitely pounced.

The winning margin was 2 1/4 lengths and the final time 1:45.23. Diamond Diva gets high marks for holding second, comfortably ahead of Rutherienne - the same Rutherienne who defeated Precious Kitten in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April. Ah, but that was the Kitten's first race in five months, and her trip that day only can be described as eventful.

Precious Kitten is a 5-year-old full sister to champion turf horse Kitten's Joy who was making her second start for the Lael Stable of Barbaro's owners, Gretchen and Roy Jackson. Her first 19 starts came for her breeders, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and were split between trainers Dale Romans and Bobby Frankel.

Usually conservative with his mares, Frankel shied away from nothing last year when it came to Precious Kitten. She ran nine times, all in graded stakes company, won four and finished second in four. Her one bad day was not her fault, since she had the rotten luck to get in the way when Simply Perfect bolted on the first turn of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park. After coming right back to win the Matriarch at Hollywood one month later, Precious Kitten was on the market.

"There aren't many mares who come up for sale of this caliber, who also give you the opportunity to carry on racing for a year or more," Gretchen Jackson said from her home in eastern Pennsylvania. "We just couldn't not take advantage of it."

The Jacksons, and especially Gretchen, are hands-on owners who tore themselves away from Barbaro's side long enough to make the trip west in the fall of 2006 to watch Showing Up win the Hollywood Derby.

"It was a killer not to be there yesterday," Gretchen Jackson said. "It makes all the difference in the world, but we just couldn't make it this time. I saw her briefly in the paddock in Keeneland, but that's all. The only good thing about Barbaro being in that stall for eight months was that I really knew him by the time . . ."

Jackson let her words trail off - we all know what happened - then quickly switched back to Precious Kitten.

"She's just amazing, isn't she?" Jackson said. "It's just beginning to dawn on me that we own her."

Jackson vowed to be on hand for her mare's next appearance, wherever it may be. Frankel is notorious for keeping his cards close when plotting campaigns for his best horses, and Precious Kitten has become one of his true jewels.

"He's the maestro," Jackson said. "You just sit back and enjoy the piece."