05/24/2004 12:00AM

Champali looks like knockout


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali scored numerous early knockouts. Champali, a horse whose name unofficially honors the great boxer and Louisville native, may similarly punish his opponents in an early round Wednesday at Churchill Downs.

is heavily favored to win the second race, a $66,800 allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs. A winner of seven races and over $452,000 for Lloyd Madison Farms IV and trainer Greg Foley, he is the undisputed class of the race.

Last year at age 3 he won four stakes races, including the Northern Dancer over the Churchill Downs strip. That followed a big 2-year-old season in which he won the Iroquois at Churchill Downs.

Freshened over the winter, he returned this year in a money allowance on the Kentucky Derby undercard, finishing second, beaten two lengths by California invader Smile n Wildcat. Racing over a muddy track, he battled between horses in a three-horse speed duel before weakening in the drive. The winner's time was fast, six furlongs in 1:09.54, with the internal fractions even faster - 21.20 seconds and 43.95.

In contrast, on Wednesday Champali may control the pace in a race void of speed. Three of his four rivals have little early quickness. Only , to Champali's outside in post 5, has shown the ability to race effectively near the lead. But even he seems more comfortable stalking or pressing the pace on the outside.

Champali should lead gate to wire. Pat Day rides.

Trainer Bob Holthus, who will start Salty Genius in the race, acknowledged the tough task facing his horse and the others hoping to catch Champali.

"But you either run there or not run at all," he said.

If Champali produces an effort less than his typical best, Salty Genius has a chance. He has been first or second in 10 of 19 races, and he was only two lengths behind Champali when fourth to Smile n Wildcat on Derby day.

Although a late-running sprinter, he has adapted well to slow-paced races. Twice he has rallied successfully to win sprints with an opening quarter mile timed in 23 seconds or slower.

Like a successful turf horse, he is capable of producing a fast quarter-mile burst. Slow-paced races tend to put him within striking distance of the front-runners, and from such a position, he has been able to outquicken them at times.

Saint Waki and Gallatin Kid complete the five-horse race.

Small to medium-sized fields fill Wednesday's card, which does not have a race with more than 10 betting interests. Three other allowances support the featured second.