05/26/2004 12:00AM

Byrne tries new trick with 'Denim'


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Even the most grizzled backstretch veterans say they learn something new about racing with surprising frequency. As a fifth-generation horseman, Pat Byrne has seen a lot of horses come and go, but even he might admit that he seldom has changed equipment on a horse for the very reason that Denim Wildcat will don blinkers for the first time Friday.

Byrne said his longtime assistant and exercise rider, Kevin Willey, suspects that Denim Wildcat has been "tensing up" when she sees a rider reach back to give her a little smack of the whip. To prevent her from seeing that coming, and thus maximize her output, Denim Wildcat will be fitted with blinkers when she goes off as one of seven scheduled starters in the Friday feature at Churchill Downs, a $47,900 entry-level allowance.

Byrne, a Churchill regular who won the Breeders' Cup Classic with Awesome Again in 1998, the year after he trained Favorite Trick to a Horse of the Year title, said the addition of blinkers "basically is just us trying something different. Will the blinkers make her run any faster? Who knows? All I know is that Kevin thinks they might help her."

, a 3-year-old filly by Forest Wildcat, most recently finished a distant second in a $50,000 claiming sprint and seems to match up well with the rest of her Friday competition. Byrne said he considered running Denim Wildcat for another high claiming price, but the timing and the six-furlong distance of the Friday race were better.

"She ought to fit for the 'a other than' anyway," he said.

Denim Wildcat, with Brian Peck to ride, will break from the far outside post. Her main challenger appears to be Bella Bianca, a Dallas Stewart-trained filly who was sharp in winning a maiden special weight race at Keeneland two races ago. In her last start, Bella Bianca finished second at this same level. With Pat Day riding her for the third straight time, she seems certain to be favored.

One other top contender is , who led most of the way at this same level 12 days ago before settling for second for trainer Hal Wiggins.

The feature is carded as the eighth of 10 Friday races. The ninth race is a $15,000 starter-allowance route for horses that have started for $5,000 or less since last July; all other Friday races are for claiming horses.

First post is 2:45 p.m.