04/20/2006 12:00AM

Balance tops 15 eyeing Ky. Oaks


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Racing officials at Churchill Downs have listed 15 horses as prospective starters for the Kentucky Oaks, the 3-year-old filly classic to be run May 5 at the Louisville track.

At this early juncture, Balance, the beaten favorite in the April 8 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, looks like the probable favorite for the Grade 1 Oaks, although there is no shortage of legitimate challengers, including her Ashland conqueror, Bushfire, along with the Fantasy Stakes winner, Ready to Please, and the Beaumont Stakes winner, Diplomat Lady.

Besides those fillies, the list of contenders for the $500,000 Oaks also includes Ermine, Ex Caelis, Itty Bitty Pretty, Last Romance, Lemons Forever, Miss Norman, Press Camp, Quiet Kim, Top Notch Lady, Wait a While, and Wonder Lady Anne L.

The Oaks is limited to 14 starters, with eligibility based on graded earnings.

Balance, who returned to her Southern California base shortly after finishing a distant third in the Ashland, has trained steadily in recent days and is scheduled to travel to Churchill on April 29, trainer David Hofmans said Thursday from Hollywood Park.

"We gave her a thorough checkout once she got back here," said Hofmans. "She really didn't care for that track at Keeneland too much. She just kind of staggered around there. She was all over the racetrack, and that's not like her at all."

Hofmans said Balance will work at Hollywood either Saturday or Sunday, probably going six furlongs.

Turf sprint stakes attracts 14

Besides the Lexington Stakes, the Saturday card at Keeneland also includes three allowance races and the $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes (race 7), a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares.

Bright Gold, winner of the Franklin County here last fall, could be the horse to beat in a highly competitive race that drew a field of 14, which includes two also-eligibles. Bright Gold, based in Maryland with trainer Mary Eppler, tuned up with a winning main-track sprint on March 15 at Laurel Park.

Other viable contenders include Very Vegas, Ebony Breeze, and Unbridled Sidney.

The Giant's Causeway, first known as the Doubledogdare, then the Spinning World, was known as the Stravinsky for the last six years.

Gorella will challenge males

Trainer Patrick Biancone said he plans to run his star turf filly, Gorella, against males in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard because the filly and mare alternative the same day is worth just $100,000.

"Good horses like her, you only have so many opportunities to make money," said Biancone. "The filly race," the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, "will be just as tough, but the purse is only $100,000? We might as well be running in Timbuktu for that kind of money. It's ridiculous."

After Gorella won her seasonal debut on Wednesday at Keeneland, the connections of another top turf mare, Wend, were not unhappy to learn that Gorella will be trying the boys next time.

"Suits us," said Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm, the breeder-owner of Wend.

J'Ray leads Appalachian probables

J'Ray, the standout 3-year-old turf filly trained by Todd Pletcher, heads the prospective lineup for the Sunday feature at Keeneland, the $100,000 Appalachian Stakes.

J'Ray is one of at least nine horses expected for the Appalachian, which goes at a mile on turf. Other probables include Aunt Henny, Dyna's Destiny, Lady of Venice, May Night, Saoirse Cat, Sorority Wildcat, Southern Protocol, and Stadore.

After Sunday, the meet winds up with the Bewitch on Wednesday, the Ben Ali on Thursday, and the Elkhorn on Friday.

Asmussen dominates baby races

Trainer Steve Asmussen has been absolutely sensational with 2-year-olds at Keeneland. Through Thursday, seven races for 2-year-olds had been run at the spring meet, and Asmussen had won five of them. He swept both divisions of a maiden filly race Thursday with Angel Island in the second and Appealing Zophie in the fourth.

Asmussen figures to hold a strong hand on the Thursday before the Derby when he sends out a pair of first-out winners in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup at Churchill. Asmussen plans to run two colts: Datrick, a winner on opening weekend at Keeneland, and Sequoia King, an easy winner here Wednesday.

"We've believed for quite a while that those two would be our best 2-year-old colts, at least starting out," said Asmussen. "It just so happened they proved us right."

Asmussen also won an April 9 race with the filly Richwoman.

The five-furlong Kentucky BC effectively replaces what previously was known as the WHAS-TV Stakes and, more recently, the Three Chimneys Juvenile. The race had been run on the Derby undercard but has been switched out with the La Troienne Stakes, a 3-year-old filly race that had been run on the Thursday before Derby.

Incidentally, Angel Island also was the name of a standout foal of 1976. That Angel Island, a filly trained by Ray Lawrence Jr., defeated Terlingua, who eventually became the dam of Storm Cat, in the 1978 Alcibiades at Keeneland.

* Apprentice Randall Toups made a return to action Thursday when he rode Three Steps Ahead to a third-place finish in the first race at Keeneland. Toups, 17, was sidelined with a back injury sustained in a Feb. 16 spill at Aqueduct.

* Just in time for the Derby, a third racing show is hitting the Louisville radio market. Lisa Roedemeier will host "The Track Kitchen" on Saturday mornings at 11 on WKRD (790-AM). Former TVG reporter Jeff Lifson will be a co-host on the one-hour show, which joins "Down the Stretch" (10 a.m., WKRD) and "Kentucky Winner's Circle" (11 a.m., WKJK 1080-AM) on Saturdays.