06/16/2004 11:00PM

Champali thrives on one-turn Kentucky races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's not that Greg Foley has committed Champali exclusively to mad dashes. "It's just kind of what we've got for him right now," said Foley.

The Aristides Breeders' Cup on Saturday at Churchill Downs marks the third start of the year for Champali, a hard-trying colt who has won 8 of his 16 career starts and earned nearly $500,000. After a runner-up finish at six furlongs in his 4-year-old debut on the May 1 Kentucky Derby undercard, then an easy win at 6 1/2 furlongs later in the month, Champali finds himself in the jet-like set again in the six-furlong Aristides.

"I still really feel like he'll be tough at seven furlongs and even up to a one-turn mile," said Foley. "He needed that first start this year, then he won pretty handy last out. Now he's fit and really doing good right now, and the distance of this race really wouldn't have mattered, except it happens to be three-quarters and it's worth $150,000. There are some nice horses in the race, but I think my horse is going to run awful good."

Champali, owned by Lloyd Madison Farms, has been a standout since his career debut as a 2-year-old at Ellis Park in August 2002. All but one of his races, a defeat last July as the odds-on favorite in the Iowa Derby, have come in Kentucky, making him something of a local hero.

Those deep local ties were a primary reason why Foley ultimately yielded to the temptation to try Champali as far as 1 1/8 miles. By the noted speed sire Glitterman, Champali clearly had distance limitations, at least according to pedigree, but a temporary concession to Kentucky Derby fever yielded a revelation or two. The bottom line was that although Champali probably figured to thrive in sprints, he also had plenty of grit and would be effective in certain middle-distance races, given the right set of circumstances.

"We'll probably get to some of those longer races as we get through the year," said Foley. "But Saturday is what we're focusing on right now. My horse put on some weight off the layoff, and he's sound, happy, and training good. Hopefully we'll get lucky and win us a nice one Saturday."

Pat Day has ridden Champali in six of the colt's last eight races, but Day will be at Belmont on Saturday to ride Azeri. Rafael Bejarano, who rides most of Foley's horses, gets the mount.

'Erin' headed to Saratoga

Veteran trainer Elliott Walden experienced the highs and lows of racing Wednesday. Walden derived great pleasure in seeing Erinsouthernman, one of the top prospects in his barn, win the fourth race, an entry-level allowance, by a relatively easy neck. But then Wildcat Queen, a valuable Storm Cat filly, broke down during the ninth race and had to be euthanized.

Wildcat Queen, a 4-year-old, was making her fifth career start. "She'd been coming back well," Walden said, "and I honestly don't know what to make of it when something like that happens."

Meanwhile, Erinsouthernman, a 4-year-old who ran third behind Toccet in the 2002 Champagne Stakes before going on a 19-month layoff, will be part of the Walden contingent headed to Saratoga next month. "We'll look for a two-other-than for him," said Walden.

Butler breaks out of slump

Mercifully, the slump that took veteran jockey Dean Butler to one of the low points of his 12-year career appears to be over.

Butler, who had won with just one of his first 64 starters while also serving a 15-day suspension for reckless riding at this meet, led off Wednesday with a sweep of the daily double. Butler, 33, won the first aboard Southernengagement and the second, via disqualification, with Doctor Turko.

Butler, who began riding regularly on this circuit two years ago after a decade on the eastern seaboard, said he never thought about leaving. "I was determined to stick it out," he said.