01/05/2012 1:41PM

Turf Paradise: Snuggs and Kisses faces tough defense task

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PHOENIX – Snuggs and Kisses returns to defend her title in Saturday’s $35,000 Kachina Handicap at Turf Paradise, but the mare, a 5-year-old daughter of Soto, doesn’t figure to have an easy time of it. The mile event for fillies and mares drew a competitive field of eight.

Snuggs and Kisses, owned by L. Barrett Bernard and trained by Dennis Sowers, came here last winter off a big win at Churchill Downs. She stalked the pace in the Kachina, took over, and drew off to win impressively.

Snuggs and Kisses continued her strong form in 2011, winning 4 of her next 9. After a win at Keeneland on Oct. 19, she ran fourth as the 7-5 favorite on grass at Churchill Downs Nov. 17. Juan Rivera, who was up for last year’s win, rides again at 119 pounds.

The 122-pound highweight in the Kachina is Queen Greeley. Trained by Todd Fincher, Queen Greeley has been dynamite at Sunland Park, SunRay Park, Ruidoso, Arapahoe and Zia. She romped in a stakes at Arapahoe last July 24, was laid off, and ran second in consecutive stakes at Zia in the fall. Scott Stevens rides.

Other competitors include Hard Seven, impressive winner in the Chandler routing on turf here Nov. 19 before finishing fifth in the Phoenix, a main-track sprint, here Dec. 10. Moving back to a route may help, and she has worked superbly since, going six furlongs in 1:10.80 on Dec. 31.

Catch Lorraine was fifth in last year’s Kachina, but that was in the midst of a busy campaign. This time she comes here fresh. After running sixth in a stakes at Pleasanton last June 25, she was sidelined six months and came back with a rallying second in the Phoenix here Dec. 10. A forward move off that makes her dangerous.

Ambitoness invades from Southern California, while Elvies Lane looked like a new horse with blinkers removed as she blasted allowance foes by 6 1/4 lengths on this track at this distance Dec. 10.