05/31/2005 12:00AM

Can Woodard's record run continue?

River Downs
Joe Woodard has saddled nine consecutive winners at Churchill.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The nine-race Churchill Downs win streak - a track record - that trainer Joe Woodard takes into the Thursday card will be on the line when he sends out a pair of new acquisitions: Buba's Caper in the fourth race, and Peace and Joy in the sixth.

Although both horses bring forth decent-looking form that could make them among the wagering favorites in their respective races, neither appears to be a standout.

Buba's Caper, a well-traveled 8-year-old, is one of nine fillies and mares in an $8,000 claiming race at one mile. Buba's Caper just competed May 23 when she finished a fast-closing third for trainer Robert Mosco in a $10,000 mile at Delaware Park.

Conversely, Peace and Joy has not raced since March 21, when he was fourth for a $30,000 claiming tag at Mountaineer Race Track. Peace and Joy will be for sale for $5,000 in a 12-horse field Thursday.

Woodard broke an 8-year-old track record for consecutive wins by sending out back-to-back winners last Thursday at Churchill. On the previous day, May 25, he scratched the two horses he had entered, and the day after he set the record, he scratched the one horse he had entered. He had no scheduled starters here Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

All but one of the nine winners Woodard saddled during his record streak were owned by Billy Hays. Both Buba's Caper and Peace and Joy are owned by Hays.

The North American record for consecutive wins is 14, set in 1996 by Frank Passero Jr. at Gulfstream Park. Woodard's streak is strictly at Churchill; he has lost races at other tracks during his Churchill streak.

Claiming sprint nominal feature

Either they exhausted their supply, or they're storing up for what's coming up, or they're just taking a break.

Whatever the case, Thursday's card is one without so much as one allowance race. The nominal feature, the ninth of 10 races, is a $50,000 claiming sprint for fillies and mares in which Psych, trained by Dallas Stewart, could be a lukewarm choice. Psych won back-to-back races at Keeneland before throwing in a clunker in a tough second-level allowance sprint here May 6.

Stewart holds a hot hand, having swept the two stakes here last weekend with Molto Vita in the Winning Colors and Silverfoot in the Louisville Handicap.

Despite the apparent lack of palatable offerings, the Thursday program isn't a complete loss. Also carded are a starter-allowance route (race 2) and a maiden special weight race at the rarely run distance of 1 3/8 miles on the turf (race 7).

The weekly handicapping contest that normally is held on Wednesdays will be held Thursday instead.

Romans surprises himself

Trainer Dale Romans has shot to the top of the Churchill trainer standings far sooner than even he could have reasonably expected.

Romans entered the spring meet with modest hopes because many of his horses had had their training schedules compromised because of the strangles epidemic that forced many of them into quarantine in March and April.

"We didn't know how the horses were going to run, coming out of the problem," said Romans. "All we did was try to stay the course and not pay a lot of attention to all the outside interference."

Romans, who has won or tied for four of the last five spring training titles at Churchill, won the seventh race Monday with Esplanade, giving him a meet-high 16 winners heading into the Thursday card. Woodard is second with nine wins, followed by Steve Asmussen and Bob Holthus with eight each.

"We figured the best-case scenario was that we would have fresh horses ready to roll," said Romans. "The worst case was they wouldn't come back off the strangles, but thank goodness the best case panned out."

Meanwhile, Asmussen, who narrowly beat Romans last spring following a heated duel, has had his Churchill meet compromised because of quarantine issues. Asmussen, along with Paul McGee and Ronny Werner, has had a full barn of horses unable to race since May 15 because of a reported outbreak of the equine herpes virus. The quarantine restrictions are expected to be lifted for all horses Saturday morning.

Sheppard's second millionaire

When Rochester finished second by three-quarters of a length Monday in the Louisville Handicap, it made the 9-year-old gelding the second millionaire trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard.

The first was With Anticipation, the multiple Grade 1 winner of several years ago. Rochester ran second to Silverfoot in the Louisville, marking the second straight year those two had finished that way. Last year, Silverfoot won by a nose.

Early Times highweights take a pass

Weights for the lone stakes to be run here this weekend, the $100,000 Early Times Mint Julep on Saturday, were released last weekend. Several of the topweighted fillies and mares are expected to bypass the 1 1/8-mile turf race, including Film Maker, Miss Terrible, and Shadow Cast.

In their absences, the Mint Julep field is expected to be headed by Sand Springs (118 pounds), Sister Swank (118), Angela's Love (117), Delta Princess (117), and Shaconage (116).

* Both G P Fleet and Senor Swinger, the respective one-two finishers in a competitive turf allowance race here Sunday, are expected to run back in the $100,000 Opening Verse on the June 18 Stephen Foster undercard. Nominations for all six Foster Day stakes close Saturday.

* Trainer Frank Brothers said the next start for his star filly, Madcap Escapade, could come July 9 in either the $500,000 Princess Rooney on Calder's Summit of Speed program or the $200,000 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park.