06/10/2011 1:46PM

Churchill: Awesome Act still in search of old form


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A little more than a year ago, Awesome Act was 11-1 to win the Kentucky Derby.

Now all he seeks is respectability. A prime chance to restore lost luster comes Sunday, when Awesome Act heads a short field in the nominal feature at Churchill Downs, a $57,900, second-level allowance that anchors a 10-race card.

Steve Asmussen, who inherited the training of Awesome Act after the 4-year-old ridgling was injured while finishing 19th in the 2010 Derby, could not have liked what he saw two months ago at Keeneland. That’s where Awesome Act finished ahead of just two opponents in his long-awaited comeback in an allowance race on turf.

Since then, Awesome Act has been entered on several occasions, only to be scratched for various reasons. In the meantime, he has posted a regular series of strong breezes at Churchill, where Asmussen is looking for vast improvement when Awesome Act faces five rivals Sunday in the ninth race, which is run at 1 1/16 miles.

“We expect a big race from him,” Asmussen said this week from New York, where he was to saddle Nehro on Saturday for the 143rd Belmont Stakes.

Julien Leparoux will be aboard Awesome Act when he breaks from the outside post.

Awesome Act, owned by Vinery Stables and Susan Roy, came well-backed in the Derby primarily because of the way he won the Gotham Stakes eight weeks before. He then was third to Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial before being beaten 60 lengths in the Derby. He was diagnosed with a staph infection afterward, and it took more than 11 months before Asmussen was able to get him regrouped up to his disappointing return to action on April 13 at Keeneland.

If Awesome Act fails to resurrect his good form, the horses most likely to take the race are Moe Man or Mine Train, both of whom finished second for this condition in their last starts at Churchill, or Mad Flatter, a stakes-seasoned 6-year-old with a dangerous turn of early foot.

Valerius and Gresham round out the lineup.

Mad Flatter and Gresham are entered for a $62,500 claiming option.

One other allowance (race 8), a $55,200, first-level turf sprint for 3-year-olds and upward, also is on tap for Sunday. It drew an oversubscribed field and shapes up as perhaps the best betting race of the day.

After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for three days before live action resumes Thursday. First post both days is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.