06/22/2012 2:08PM

Churchill Downs: Isthmus looks desirable in feature


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Knowing that seven claims were in for Isthmus when he made his last start for $40,000, his new trainer, Brad Cox, acknowledged with a slight chuckle that “it’s possible” a claim slip or two might be filled out for the 4-year-old colt when he wheels back Sunday for $50,000.

Isthmus became the property of Cox’s clients, the Midwest Thoroughbreds of Richard and Karen Papiese, after finishing second as the 1-2 favorite in a one-mile race June 8 at Churchill Downs. With leading jockey Corey Lanerie staying aboard, Isthmus will break from post 2 in a field of eight 3-year-olds and upward in the featured sixth of 10 Sunday races at Churchill, a $62,500, second-level allowance. The six-furlong race also carries a $50,000 claiming option.

“We know we’re wheeling back a little quick, but the colt seemed to come out of that last race in good order,” said Cox, a 32-year-old graduate of nearby Iroquois High School. “We feel lucky that we won the shake for him and that this is the kind of race we need to take a shot at.”

Midwest not only led the Churchill spring-meet owner standings heading into Friday action but is well on its way to being the leading owner in North America for the second straight year. Their business philosophy is “aggressive and smart,” noted Cox, with several trainers handling their huge stable at various venues throughout the eastern half of the United States.

“This is the kind of race where hopefully the horse will run well and the client will turn a profit,” said Cox, who plans to race the Midwest horses at several tracks this summer after Churchill ends. “Obviously some horses you do well with, some you don’t. Hopefully this will be one of the good ones.”

The chief opposition for Isthmus includes Motor City, a 3-year-old gelding trying to return to form after going awry following his victory here last fall in the Grade 3 Iroquois; Our Dark Knight, a Ron Moquett retread also entered for the $50,000 option after most recently finishing last of six in the Grade Count Fleet at Oaklawn in April; and Phillippe, narrowly beaten at 9-1 for this same condition in his last start June 1.

The only other allowance on the card directly precedes the feature as race 5. It’s a $59,800, first-level turf route that drew a field of 10, including one main-track-only designee in Majestic Harbor. Assuming the race stays on grass, Chicago shipper North of Never looks like one of the logical favorites with Leandro Goncalves riding.

First post is 12:45 p.m. Eastern, with the race-6 feature going at 3:18 and the 10th at 5:20. After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for three days before the final four-day race week resumes Thursday. Closing day is next Sunday, July 1.