05/03/2008 12:00AM

Chelokee prognosis guarded


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Chelokee will need "a major piece of surgery" to repair a dislocated right front ankle that he suffered during the running of Friday's Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs, Dr. Larry Bramlage of the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., said Saturday. But while his racing career is over, Chelokee could be saved to become a stallion, Bramlage said.

Chelokee, trained by Michael Matz, broke down in upper stretch during the running of the Alysheba, run over a sloppy Churchill Downs track. It was first believed to be a condylar fracture of the right foreleg, but Bramlage on Saturday said that was not the case.

"He had a dislocated ankle where he dislocated the sesamoids about five centimeters up the side of the leg, and that's what the ambulance [personnel] thought initially was a condylar fracture," Bramlage said. "It's a career-ending injury. Hopefully, with a little luck, he'll be able to be a stallion."

Immediately after the race, Chelokee was transported by equine ambulance to the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. Bramlage said that Chelokee's chances of survival are "at least 50-50" and that he would wait for the swelling to subside and the blood supply to increase in the ankle before doing the surgery.

"I'll look at him again [Sunday] morning," Bramlage said. "He lost some of the blood supply to his foot, the rest of it is coming back. We have to follow it along until it's appropriate to make an incision in the soft tissue that he injured. He had quite a lot of swelling and a lot of soft tissue damage."

Bramlage said the surgery would entail fusing the ankle together with plates, screws, and wire. He said the only thing holding the ankle in place currently is the cast.

Bramlage said that Chelokee's condition had improved overnight and his attitude was terrific.

"We had to actually put a traffic cone in his stall so he had something to play with, because he kept trying to pull his [intravenous] line out of the ceiling," Bramlage said. "He actually did it once, pulled it out of the bag just because he's looking for something to do."

Bramlage said the injury was somewhat similar to the one suffered by Barbaro in his right hind leg during the running of the 2006 Preakness. Barbaro survived for eight months before being euthanized.

Chelokee, a son of Cherokee Run owned by Centennial Farms, won 5 of 10 starts, including the Barbaro Stakes and Grade 3 Northern Dancer. He earned $385,785.

Proud Spell headed to New York

Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell emerged from her smashing triumph Friday in good order and will be pointed to the Acorn Stakes, then the New York filly triple crown series, trainer Larry Jones said Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Proud Spell, ridden by Gabriel Saez, won the Oaks by five lengths over Little Belle, with Pure Clan another three-quarters of a length back in third. The filly was a lukewarm 3-1 favorite in a field of 10 3-year-old fillies.

Jones said Proud Spell would be sent Monday to the Fair Hill training center in northeast Maryland. He said the likely next start would come in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park, followed by the three races that were reconfigured in 2003 to form the filly triple crown: the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Alabama Stakes.

Proud Spell was bred by her owner, former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones.

Oaks day handle declines

All-sources handle on the 11-race Oaks card was down 7 percent, a decrease that would seem a minor triumph for Churchill, considering the fact an untold number of online horseplayers were unable to wager on the Friday races because of an ongoing contractual stalemate between Churchill management and horsemen. Advance-deposit wagering services, including twinspires.com and XpressBet, were blacked out, as were all south Florida markets. The Oaks itself was not blacked out in some markets because of a prior arrangement that protected the race.

All-sources handle was $31,231,991, down from the nearly $33.6 million bet last year. Meanwhile, ontrack handle of $11.2 million was down 8.3 percent from last year.

On the Oaks itself, all-sources wagering was $9.1 million, a nearly 10 percent decline from last year. Ontrack wagering on the Oaks was $2.5 million, down 14 percent. Churchill officials attributed the downward ontrack numbers to nasty weather, although the rainy conditions were similar to what was present when Rags to Riches won the 2007 Oaks.

Curlin hailed as hero

They rolled out the red carpet, literally, for the 2007 Horse of the Year, Curlin, at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Curlin walked into the paddock over the same red carpet normally reserved for the human guests who visit Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Curlin spent several minutes in the walking ring before and while the horses were being saddled for Saturday's fifth race, the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes.

Curlin was returning to the Churchill Downs paddock for the first time since finishing third behind Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup before clinching both divisional and Horse of the Year honors with his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Curlin began his 4-year-old campaign in Dubai where he posted a pair of victories, including a triumph in the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Trainer Steve Asmussen was noncommittal Saturday about Curlin's next start but did indicate he was leaning towards bringing him back in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 14.

"It's impossible to pinpoint any one race at the moment considering he's had only one half-mile work in 55 since returning from Dubai," Asmussen said. "But he is stabled here and we'd certainly like to redeem ourselves at Churchill Downs, so I'd love to put him in a position to make the Stephen Foster if we could."

Owner Jess Jackson looked on proudly as Curlin paraded around the walking ring to the cheers of a large and appreciative crowd.

"He's a cool horse. I'm more nervous than he is, and it's a pleasure for us that Churchill Downs thought it was wise to show him off like this at the Derby," said Jackson.

Jackson also said he'd like to race Curlin at different venues around the world, like he did in Dubai.

"I'd love to continue to take Curlin to new places where horses from the United States don't normally race, like the Arc or the Japan Cup, both for his legacy and well as to plant the U.S. flag just as did in Dubai," he said. "I'm a patriot and that was the primary purpose of bringing him to the World Cup. It wasn't about the money."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Mike Welsch