06/16/2010 11:00PM

Barge looks sharp in night sprint


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The theme for the second night-racing card of the spring at Churchill Downs this Friday is "South Beach," mirroring the Miami neighborhood that draws young partiers most every night along the city's famous Ocean Drive.

Churchill Downs may find it hard to fully emulate that scene, but it will certainly be sizzling like a summer in south Florida on Friday night outside in the grandstand and paddock and on the racetrack itself.

A high temperature of 93 is forecast by weather.com for Friday afternoon, before dropping into the 80s for Friday night's racing that begins at 6 p.m. Eastern.

The featured race of the evening, the $66,500 Morluc overnight stakes also figures to be hotly contested, with eight speedsters set to contest the five-furlong turf dash, with recent allowance winner Barge headlining a field that includes stakes winners Turfiste, Awakino Cat, and veteran Hold the Salt.

Although he has not yet earned black type, Barge rates a narrow edge on recent form. A front-running 4-year-old gelded son of Forest Camp, he has run well in a pair of turf sprints at Churchill Downs this meet, finishing a close seventh in the Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint on April 30 behind Silver Timber and then following that up with a wire-to-wire victory against second-level allowance rivals May 14.

He has been first or second in five of seven starts for owner Dogwood Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher. Jon Court rides.

Hold the Salt, a 13-time winner, lacks the early speed of Barge, but can match that rival's highest speed figures -- in the 90's -- when he runs his best.

This winter and spring at Tampa Bay, Hold the Salt won a turf sprint and was second, beaten a neck, in his last race, an April 23 overnight handicap. He is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash, having taken back-to-back runnings of that race at Kentucky Downs in 2007-08. He was third in that race last year.

Corey Lanerie has the mount for trainer James Dodgen.

Others capable of challenging include Awakino Cat, a winner of six turf sprints for trainer Linda Rice; Turfiste, a winner over this course last fall but unplaced in three starts since; and Free Brave, who contended in stakes earlier in the year before finishing second in a swiftly run $50,000 claimer May 27.

The Morluc is scheduled for 10:52 p.m., with the 11th and final race to follow at 11:20.