10/02/2003 11:00PM

Byrne hopes for upset


LEXINGTON, Ky. - At least her owner knows a little something about the well-worn phrase, "on any given Sunday."

Desert Gold, quite possibly the longest shot in the Grade 1 Overbrook Spinster at Keeneland, is owned by the Stonerside Stable of Bob McNair, who also happens to own the Houston Texans franchise of the National Football League.

Four weeks ago, when the NFL season opened, the Texans shocked the Miami Dolphins in the kind of "any given Sunday" upset that trainer Pat Byrne is hoping Desert Gold can pull Sunday on Take Charge Lady.

"Realistically, we're hoping she can at least run third, because then she'd be Grade 1-placed and would greatly enhance her value as a broodmare," Byrne said. "She's got a fantastic pedigree, so if you have the racing record to go with it, that's what you're looking for."

Desert Gold is a 4-year-old filly by Seeking the Gold from the family of Desert Stormer, the 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner. She has won six of 11 career starts but has only one minor stakes win to her credit.

Byrne is stabled near Ken McPeek at Churchill Downs, which allows Byrne the opportunity to often watch the training moves of Take Charge Lady, McPeek's heavy Spinster favorite.

"Man, is she training great," Byrne said. "It'll take a whole lot to beat her. I don't know if we can, but we're going to give her a try."

An upset by Desert Gold would be the only one that McNair will be able to savor Sunday. His Texans have a bye this week.

Apasionata Sonata impresses Ward

Trainer John Ward, who will saddle Apasionata Sonata for the WinStar Galaxy on Sunday, keeps close tabs on many aspects of the racing industry. One thing he has noticed is the closing times of top turf horses from Europe.

"Your Group 1 horses finish in less than 34 seconds," said Ward. "The Group 2 horses, in 34-and-2, and Group 3 in right about 35. I swear, you can pretty much set your watch by it."

Ward said he strongly believes that it is "their turn of foot, their raw speed" that makes a success out of distance horses on turf. "People think that these are horses with great stamina, when in fact they just jog around there before sprinting home," he said.

When Apasionata Sonata, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred mare by Affirmed, won the one-mile Kentucky Cup Ladies two weeks ago at Kentucky Downs, she rallied from 11 lengths behind to win by two lengths, closely resembling one of those European mares that Ward so admires.

Ward said that "maybe I got it wrong, but I had her coming home the last half-mile in 44-and-1. I realize there might be margin for error there, but you could tell just by watching that this mare was flying. She really has become a nice racemare. We thought we had to give her a shot in this kind of company Sunday."

Remind one to beat in Storm Cat

Obscured by the Spinster and Galaxy is a third stakes on the Sunday card: the $75,000 Storm Cat, a one-mile grass race restricted to 3-year-olds.

Remind, with Jerry Bailey riding for Claiborne Farm and trainer Bill Mott, is the probable favorite in a field of 11, having finished second in four consecutive graded turf races.

Other contenders include Ya Lajwaad, winner of his last two starts for Eoin Harty; Gimmeawink, winner of the Nick Shuk at Delaware; and In Hand, winner of the Ocean Place Resort at Monmouth.

Backstretch workers can rest easy

Finally, getting out of bed at an absurd hour is over for the hundreds of men and women who work on the Churchill Downs backside. Since July 14, training hours at Churchill had been limited to 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. The revised hours were mandated to accommodate daytime work on the ongoing renovation project on the track's frontside.

"It got pretty tough for a lot of people," said Dave Fortner, assistant to trainer Elliott Walden. "I know everybody will be glad to get back to our regular schedule."

Meanwhile, progress continues unabated on the $121 million project. With demolition completed and foundations poured, structural work recently began on the new clubhouse. The entire project is due for completion in early 2005.

Contest prize crushes winner's odds

Turfway Park ended its 22-day meet Thursday night with a rather peculiar giveaway: a $5,000 voucher that had to be wagered to win in the ninth race.

Fortunately for Bob Serra, who won the voucher in a random drawing, there was a standout in the race: Bo's Sister, who drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The win odds on the filly had been hovering at about even-money until the $5,000 bet was made just before the race. She returned $2.60 to win, which was worth $6,500 to Serra, who lives in Elsmere, Ky.