11/20/2009 12:00AM

Acoma looks hit or miss

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Acoma, winning the Mint Julep back in June, has fared poorly in two starts since then.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If you start with the highweight and go from there, well, figuring out the Cardinal Handicap looks a bit tricky.

The $100,000 Cardinal, the Saturday feature at Churchill Downs, will have Acoma as the 121-pound highweight, but off back-to-back last-place finishes, the 4-year-old filly seems a shaky proposition. As trainer David Carroll said: "We're more hopeful than confident."

Acoma, with Jesus Castanon to ride, will break from post 3 in the Grade 3 Cardinal, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that drew nine fillies and mares. This will be the 36th running of the Cardinal, which anchors an excellent Saturday card as the ninth of 10 races.

Acoma (pronounced AK-uh-muh) exited the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap on July 19 with "her bloodwork awry," said Carroll. "It took us a while to get her back, but then she started training really well again" into the Grade 1 First Lady on Oct. 10 at Keeneland, he said.

But with Robby Albarado aboard, she ran poorly in the First Lady, leaving Carroll scratching his head.

"Robby said she was never really at the races," said Carroll. "Since then, she's trained forwardly, looks great. If she runs her race Saturday, she's got to be right there."

Indeed, when Acoma runs her race - as she has in winning 5 stakes from 13 overall starts, including the 2008 Mrs. Revere and 2009 Mint Julep over the Churchill turf - she is a bear. And on those merits, racing secretary Ben Huffman saw fit to give her opposition anywhere from two to six pounds of benefit.

That assemblage of challengers includes no easy throwouts. You Go West Girl is entered off back-to-back stakes triumphs versus New York-breds. Tizfiz won two ungraded stakes in open company this summer. Zaskar has improved steadily and exits a sharp effort at Belmont Park.

Also, Social Queen appears capable of a big late run. My Baby Baby comes off a good-looking allowance win over the Churchill course. And two horses exit rugged Grade 1 turf races: Leamington was fifth in the Flower Bowl at Belmont, and Lemon Chiffon was fourth in the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita.

Besides the Cardinal, the Saturday card also includes the $60,000 Bet on Sunshine (race 8) and two allowances (races 4 and 10). First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.

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