05/12/2002 11:00PM

Bet on Sunshine back to race at 10

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It is fitting that on Wednesday, a day when many seniors attend Churchill Downs, that a senior on the racetrack headlines the card. Bet on Sunshine, a 10-year-old gelding, makes his seasonal debut in the ninth race, a $58,500 allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Even against stakes winners Bright Valour and Bidis, Bet on Sunshine will be heavily favored to teach his younger foes a lesson. The reasons are clear.

He is a graded stakes winner with earnings of over $1.4 million, he is 8 for 17 on the Churchill Downs main track, and he is training swiftly for his first race since winning a route allowance over eventual New Orleans Handicap winner Parade Leader in November.

He worked five furlongs as far back as a month ago, and signaled his readiness for his comeback with a bullet six-furlong drill May 2 in 1:11, a work that trainer Paul McGee characterized as "exceptionally good.'

"He's as sound as a brass bell," said McGee. "He hasn't lost a step - at least not to watch him go. He's at the top of his game."

Bet on Sunshine, even after time away from the races, is expected to return at full strength. He has won four of his last five races following layoffs, and McGee is skilled with bringing horses back on two to six months' rest, winning at a 25 percent rate. Pat Day rides.

Bright Valour, winner of the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap at Arlington Park in 2000 and 2001, may challenge. A winner of four of six races at 6 1/2 furlongs, he will be racing for the first time since running last behind El Corredor in the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 2.

Bright Valour won an allowance at Churchill Downs in 2001 under similar conditions and finished three-quarters of a length behind Bet on Sunshine when the pair finished third and second in a Derby Day allowance. Mark Guidry has been named to ride by trainer Frankie Brothers.

Bidis, a three-time stakes winner in 2001, also figures prominently, as does the late-running U. S. Jets. District and Find the Mine complete the six-horse field.

After Wednesday, McGee plans to continue to point Bet on Sunshine toward sprints, specifically the Aristides Handicap later in the meet. McGee will keep his options open by nominating him to route stakes, but he favors keeping him in short races.

"He is probably a better sprinter," he said.

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