05/26/2003 11:00PM

Battler Bob appears back in form

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's not the best card of the Churchill Downs spring meet. With the third through seventh races on the Thursday program representing the very bottom of the proverbial Churchill barrel - three $5,000 claiming races, and two $15,000 maiden-claiming races - the inclination from horseplayers might be to take a pass until Friday.

That, of course, would ignore the realities of what Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar has at his disposal, not to mention the necessity of affording horsemen the occasional opportunity to run their slowest horses. In any case, at least the other half of the 10-race Thursday program is respectable, most notably an entry-level allowance that serves as the ninth-race feature.

Trainer Dale Romans, whose 14 wins through Monday has him two ahead of Bernie Flint atop the Churchill trainer standings, will saddle one of the top contenders in the feature, a one-turn mile with a purse of $43,500. Romans trains Battler Bob, who drew post 2 in a field of 10 3-year-olds and upward.

Battler Bob, owned by Team Valor, narrowly missed knocking out his first allowance condition when beaten by a head by Perfect Cut in the 12th and final race on Kentucky Derby Day. Robby Albarado, who rode the 4-year-old colt that day, has a return call Thursday.

Battler Bob has been lightly raced in recent months, but his return to action after less than four weeks appears to signal a return to form. Battler Bob ran fourth in the Swaps Stakes last July, then was off for seven months when returning to finish seventh in a Santa Anita turf race. He then was transferred to Romans, who raced him for the first time on Derby Day.

Probably the strongest challenger to Battler Bob is Double Slam, a Steve Asmussen-trained 3-year-old who was the beaten favorite behind another Romans horse, Dance Pro, at this same one-mile distance on May 10.

Other contenders include Devine Time, a recent claim by Chuck Simon; Formal Decree, a winner of his lone career start; and Kasparov, the beaten favorite at this level in his last two starts.

The other high points of the Thursday card include a $30,000 claiming sprint (race 2) and a $50,000 claiming route for 3-year-olds on the turf (race 8).

There is no carryover in the pick six Thursday.

With Thursday being the 24th of 52 scheduled programs this spring, the coming weekend marks the halfway point of the meet.