06/07/2011 2:14PM

Churchill Downs: Baker out to regain momentum


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Jimmy Baker stable has cooled off after a red-hot start to the Churchill Downs spring meet, but that was inevitable. Nobody can sustain the 80-percent pace he set by winning with 4 of his first 5 starters, although Baker said he sure would have liked to.

“It was a nice little tear we went on,” said Baker.

Having sent out eight straight losers at Churchill – what has he done for anyone lately? – Baker will be looking to bump up his win percentage when he saddles Smooth Charm as a prime contender in the seventh of nine races here Thursday. Smooth Charm, with Julien Leparoux back to ride, will break from the outside post in a nice-looking field of seven 3-year-old fillies competing for a $55,200 purse under a first-level allowance condition at 1 1/16 miles.

Smooth Charm won the first race on Kentucky Oaks Day,stretching out from a pair of sprints to score easily in her first try around two turns. She earned a field-high Beyer Speed Figure of 85 in that 4 3/4-length triumph.

“I purposely sprinted her twice to have her fit to go long when she did,” said Baker, a 53-year-old veteran who has conditioned such standouts as Elite Squadron, Pretty Prolific, Mahogany Hall, and Spinning Round. “We’re hoping she’ll be able to graduate from this condition before too long and prove herself good enough to run in stakes.”

Smooth Charm is one of about a dozen horses Baker currently has at Churchill for the Courtlandt Farms of Donald Adam. Prime Cut, trained by Churchill-based Neil Howard, will carry the Courtlandt colors Saturday in the 143rd Belmont Stakes in New York.

Other contenders in the seventh race include Nakano, never worse than second in four career starts; Lady Aspen, second for these same conditions May 19; and Japanese Garden, making the third start in her form cycle.

One other allowance (race 8) also is on tap for Thursday. It’s a $57,900, second-level turf sprint in which Scintillation, Donna Getyourgun, and Costly figure as the favorites in a well-matched field of fillies and mares.

First post Thursday is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

◗ Friday will be the last twilight card of the meet, with the first of 11 races going at 2:45 p.m. General Quarters, a multiple Grade 1 winner who has been sidelined since last August, will return to action in the ninth race, a seven-furlong allowance in which he will face such capable one-turn runners as Native Ruler and Wise Dan.

Night racing, with a 6 p.m. first post, is scheduled for the final three Fridays of the meet.