05/20/2007 11:00PM

Allowance lures stakes-caliber field

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Allowance races are supposed to be softer spots than the stakes races for which they often serve as preps.

Wednesday's sixth race at Churchill Downs, an open $65,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles on turf that is written in the condition book as a prep for the June 16 Mint Julep Handicap, is one of those rare exceptions. A stakes-caliber field of seven has been entered, led by Mauralakana, Delicate Dynamite, and Rich in Spirit.

The likely favorite is Mauralakana, a filly who is not even being pointed toward the Mint Julep. Runner-up in last fall's Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland, she is using Wednesday's race as a stepping-stone for the Grade 2 Just a Game Handicap at Belmont Park on June 9, according to trainer Patrick Biancone.

A 4-year-old daughter of Muhtathir who was imported from France last year, Mauralakana has raced twice since a half-length defeat behind Vacare in the QE II. She finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs, and then returned with a fourth-place finish on Polytrack in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on April 14.

The Jenny Wiley, which was transferred from turf to Polytrack because of inclement weather, was a comeback race for Mauralakana. Fresh after more than five months of inactivity, she uncharacteristically went to the lead in a paceless race before fading and finishing 6 1/4 lengths behind the winner, My Typhoon.

"She ran to get some foundation," Biancone said. "She ran a good race."

Regular rider Julien Leparoux retains the mount.

Rich in Spirit, who ran second in the Mint Julep last June, heads the opposition. She comes off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Hillsborough Handicap at Tampa Bay Downs on March 17.

Blinkers, which have been part of her equipment for Rich in Spirit's last five races, will be removed for Wednesday's race.

"I don't know if they helped her or not," said trainer Tom Proctor.

He said the late-running Rich in Spirit has been compromised by slow paces in recent starts, such as in the Hillsborough, where victorious Cassydora raced loose on the lead in the 1 1/8-mile race by setting a half-mile split in 49.67 seconds.

Sub on job during rash of errors

A rash of timing malfunctions and a photo-finish failure at Churchill Downs last week came under the direction of a substitute operator of the equipment, track and timing officials said.

According to charts supplied by Equibase, there are five instances of races missing two or more fractional times during racing last week. Races had to be hand timed in some cases.

The photo-finish failure occurred in Saturday's sixth race, a race that unfolded with a tight finish between River City Rebel and True Course. This forced placing judges and stewards to analyze video in an effort to determine the winner, but they were unable to conclusively say whether one horse finished in front of the other. As a result, the two horses were awarded the win in a dead heat, chief state racing steward John Veitch said.

Jerry Mahoney, a worker for American Teletimer, normally handles photo finishes and the timing of races at Churchill Downs. Because of a health concern in his family, Donna Blauser replaced him last week.

Blauser, who is less experienced as an official timer than Mahoney, said the Churchill Downs timing system is more complex than the system at the Red Mile, a harness track in Lexington where she has worked for American Teletimer.

"At the Red Mile there are four photo eyes," she said. "There are 172 here."

She said an alarm indicating a malfunction in her photo-finish system triggered before the sixth race Saturday, and she was not able to get the equipment working in time to provide a photo finish for the race.

"We have given our photo-finish equipment a thorough examination and have made a couple of adjustments to ensure that no further malfunctions occur," Churchill Downs general manager Jim Gates said. "But our placing judges and video crews did a marvelous job in that case in what would be a normal backup procedure for any failure of our photo-finish equipment."

When contacted at his office Monday morning, Joel Rosenzweig, president and CEO of American Teletimer, said he was unaware of the timing and photo-finish errors at Churchill Downs. He said he followed the firm's customary procedure of replacing an employee with one who had been trained for the position.

"I wish I knew about this earlier," he said. "I would have taken action to correct it."

He said Mahoney would return to work Wednesday.

Albarado moves closer to top

One day after riding Curlin to a hard-fought victory over Street Sense in the Preakness, Robby Albarado won three races here Sunday to close the gap on Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano in the jockey standings.

Heading into Wednesday, he is third in the standings with 21 winners. Leparoux is first with 23 wins, one ahead of Bejarano.