06/02/2011 12:27PM

Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby undercard stakes may prove key race for Aristides


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When the Churchill Downs Stakes was contested four Saturdays ago on the Kentucky Derby undercard, a number of horses ran very well – but not quite well enough – in the Grade 2 race won by Aikenite in a frantic finish.

Now comes the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill, and a handful of those horses are back. The question becomes this. Which one will improve enough to prevail?

It could be Capt. Candyman Can, or Noble’s Promise, or Here Comes Ben, the respective 4-5-7 finishers in the hotly contested Churchill Downs. Or it could be none of the above, as five other accomplished older horses join them in what shapes up as one of the better runnings of the Aristides, a six-furlong race that honors the first winner of the Kentucky Derby and was inaugurated here in 1989.

Here Comes Ben, winner of the Grade 1 Forego last summer at Saratoga, figures to vie for favoritism with another 5-year-old, the ultra-consistent Capt. Candyman Can. Both Here Comes Ben and Noble’s Promise were making their first starts of the year on Derby Day.

“That last race should really help him because he really needed it,” said Ken McPeek, trainer of Noble’s Promise, who will start Saturday from the favorable outside post with Alan Garcia in from New York to ride. “This horse does really well when he stalks, and the outside should give Alan the opportunity to do what he wants. He had a pretty rough trip Derby Day, although he was getting a little leg-weary because he’d been off so long. I’m looking for him to improve in this one.”

Here Comes Ben, based at Keeneland with trainer Charlie Lopresti, will break from the rail with Julien Leparoux riding.

Capt. Candyman Can (post 3) surged to an open lead in midstretch of the seven-furlong Churchill Downs before winding up fourth, beaten only a half-length by Aikenite. Calvin Borel has the mount back on the earner of nearly $750,000.

“I think Calvin might’ve been second-guessing himself for moving too early, but that happens to everybody in this game,” said Ian Wilkes, trainer of Capt. Candyman Can. “The great thing about this horse is how he’s come back to be competitive against top horses after being off [15 months] until early this year. You love a horse like him that brings his ‘A’ game every time.”

Wilkes said two races at Saratoga, the Vanderbilt and Forego, are on his radar for this summer, which also is the case for several others in the field, assuming solid efforts Saturday.

Other major players in the Aristides lineup include Cash Refund (post 5, Shaun Bridgmohan) and Riley Tucker (post 2, Kent Desormeaux), the respective one-two finishers in a key May 15 allowance at Churchill. Riley Tucker earned an eye-popping 110 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the 2010 Aristides but has won just once in eight subsequent tries.

The balance of the field is Hurricane Ike (post 4, Robby Albarado), winner of the 2010 Derby Trial; Good Lord (post 6, Corey Lanerie), a sharp last-out allowance winner at Churchill; and Atta Boy Roy (post 7, Jesus Castanon), a multiple stakes winner whose career highlight came in his 10-1 upset of the 2010 Churchill Downs.

The Aristides is the 10th of 11 races on a card that starts at 12:45 p.m. Eastern. The Grade 3 Dogwood (4:59 post) directly precedes the Aristides (5:29).