06/30/2003 11:00PM

Be Like Mike will take money

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The spring meet at Churchill Downs has not gone as well as trainer Niall O'Callaghan had hoped. But O'Callaghan, who has won with just five of 41 starters, does have a built-in excuse.

"A lot of my horses got sick just about when it was time to come north from Florida," said O'Callaghan. "It's taken some time for them to come around. Hopefully we'll have a nice summer to try to make up for the lost time."

Now that the 2003 calendar has flipped over to July, O'Callaghan will try to get his summer started. He will saddle the solid favorite, Be Like Mike, in the Thursday feature, a $58,300, third-level allowance that attracted a field of six older horses.

Be Like Mike was one of the O'Callaghan horses forced to the sidelines for a brief period this spring, but once he returned, the 4-year-old colt showed no ill effects from the layoff. He was easily best in a second-level allowance in his most recent start in early June, and he should again take heavy action Thursday.

Pat Day again will be on board Be Like Mike in the six-furlong feature. Probably the top challengers are Dubai Sheikh, a sharp winner two starts back for leading trainer Dale Romans, and Devil's Dust, who won with Day aboard in April. Rounding out the field are Royal Mambo, Mighty David, and Still Be Smokin'.

The 10-race Thursday card also includes a $57,800, one-mile turf allowance in which as many 10 fillies and mares will start.

Three-day graded finale

Thursday is the last day of the meet without a graded stakes.

The 52-day meet closes with the Grade 3, $100,000 Debutante Stakes on Friday, the Grade 2, $250,000 Firecracker Handicap on Saturday, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Bashford Manor Stakes on Sunday.

Velasquez in charge

With Day named on just three horses here Wednesday and six on Thursday, it appears Cornelio Velasquez will be the leading rider at his first full meet at Churchill.

Velasquez led Day by a 51-45 count entering the final five-day stretch of racing. Besides his light schedule early this week, Day also is scheduled to miss all of Saturday to ride With Anticipation in the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park.