05/22/2006 12:00AM

Battle of South Americans


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Wednesday's eighth race at Churchill Downs half looks like a race from South America.

Three of the seven entrants in the eighth race, a $62,000 optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, are from there. Two of them, Whopper Victory and Esprit Du Roi, originally raced in Chile. The other, O'Connell's, raced previously in Brazil. All have started in the United States.

The race runs through them. O'Connell's, coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream April 1, is the likely favorite, and the stakes-winning Esprit Du Roi scored at this same level two starts ago on April 29.

Even , who ran fifth of six in his only race in the U.S., cannot be counted out. Stretching out in distance, he starts for Todd Pletcher, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer each of the past two years.

, a 5-year-old son of Jules trained by Eduardo Caramori, appears the most probable winner, particularly if he matches or improves upon his performance in the Skip Away, his first race in this country. He ran in spurts in that race - showing initial speed, falling back, and then rallying to finish a distant third behind 2005 Bluegrass winner Bandini. O'Connell's ran a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, the top last-race figure in Wednesday's eighth race.

He also proved his class in the Skip Away by outfinishing the late-running Noble Causeway for third. The latter, subsequently third in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes, was second in last year's Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Rafael Bejarano rides O'Connell's.

It's No Joke is the greatest threat to the South American trio. Third behind Harlington in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in March, he has since struggled in two starts, finishing sixth in both the Oaklawn Handicap and Ben Ali at Keeneland. He broke slowly in the Ben Ali.

Dropped back into the allowance ranks, he may rebound. His last allowance-race effort resulted in a six-length score at Gulfstream in February.

is also proven over Churchill's main track, having won a first-level allowance there in the fall. Jesus Castanon, aboard for two of the colt's three victories, has the mount.

Other starters include Count One, Copy My Notes, and Missme, a five-time stakes winner.

Three other allowances and a $50,000 claiming race are also on the card Wednesday. The $50,000 claimer, the sixth race, has a full field entered, led by Remind, a stakes-winning Deputy Minister horse making his first start for a tag.