07/21/2005 12:00AM

Still chasing a victory, Nolan's Cat in turf stakes


Maidens rarely are favored in stakes races, but Nolan's Cat probably will defy that trend Saturday at Ellis Park. Despite never having won in six career starts, Nolan's Cat figures to be favored over 10 other 3-year-olds in the $75,000 Regaey Island Stakes at the Henderson, Ky., track.

Besides his maiden status, Nolan's Cat also has never raced on grass, and the 13th running of the Regaey Island is set for 1 1/16 miles on the Ellis turf course. Yet trainer Dale Romans is confident Nolan's Cat will ably handle the unfamiliar surface and that the colt's apparent class edge will come through.

, a homebred Catienus colt owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has faced some of the top 3-year-olds in North America this year, having most recently finished third behind Afleet Alex in the June 11 Belmont Stakes. He also has finished creditably when he was beaten in maiden races by such well-regarded colts as Noble Causeway and Coin Silver.

"He's proven he can compete with stakes horses, and I wanted to try grass with him," said trainer Dale Romans. "We figured this was a good time and good spot to try something like this."

Romans initially was inclined to run Nolan's Cat in a maiden race at the Churchill Downs meet that ended July 10, but the colt was compromised by a minor setback that cost him "a couple days training, that's all," said Romans. "It really wasn't a big deal."

Romans said a more relevant concern toward Saturday may be the turnback from the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont to the shorter Regaey Island.

"There's been plenty of time since his last race, which usually makes a horse a little sharper," said Romans. "He worked a nice half-mile the other day," breezing in 50.20 seconds Tuesday at Churchill, "and although we're definitely hoping the further the better for him, we're also hoping the move to turf will give him a little quicker turn of foot."

The strongest opposition for Nolan's Cat appears to be .

Mesawmi started his career for a $30,000 claiming price "because it looked like he wasn't that interested in training, at least on dirt," said trainer Pat Byrne. But the colt won his first two starts, and Byrne has been pleasantly surprised.

"This looks like the right kind of spot," said Byrne.