07/02/2007 11:00PM

Big Prairie returns from injury


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The career ascent of a 5-year-old horse named Big Prairie has been interrupted for extended periods on two occasions, the latest of which ends Thursday. Returning to action in a classified allowance on the Churchill Downs turf course, Big Prairie will attempt to show that the wait was worth it.

A winner of 4 of his last 5 starts, Big Prairie was sidelined most recently with a splint injury that trainer Rusty Arnold said required time but not surgery.

"It got pretty big, so we fired it and laid him up for a little while," Arnold said.

Duly rested and regrouped, Big Prairie - bred and owned by Dinwiddie Farm - will break from post 1 in a field of seven older horses entered in the eighth of nine Thursday races. Julien Leparoux, well on his way to another riding title at Churchill, has the call in the 1o1/16-mile turf race, which carries a purse of $58,500.

Arnold said the distance of Big Prairie's comeback race "might be a touch short, but this is a good place for us to start back. We'd like to get him to stay sound through a series of races."

The latest lengthy layoff is the second of Big Prairie's career, following a nine-month respite caused by a condylar fracture midway through his 3-year-old season. After three decent races last spring in Kentucky, Big Prairie suddenly hit his best stride when rallying to win back-to-back allowances at Saratoga. Then, after finishing fourth in the 1 1/2-mile Sycamore Stakes last fall at Keeneland, the horse reeled off two more allowance triumphs, one at Churchill and the next in early January at Gulfstream Park.

At least one of Big Prairie's opponents seems likely to ensure a solid pace in the Thursday feature: Starspangled Gator, a free-wheeling 4-year-old who will start alongside him in post 2. Calvin Borel has the call from trainer Billy Gowan.

Other contenders include Lord Carmen, a classy Chicago shipper trained by Frank Kirby; Go Between, winner of last summer's Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs; and Terrific Storm, a Todd Pletcher-trained 6-year-old with a 2-3-1 record from seven starts over the Churchill turf.