07/01/2011 12:57PM

Churchill Downs: Large fields as meet winds to close


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The richest event Sunday at Churchill Downs is a mere first-level, $62,100 allowance, but that hardly qualifies as bad news. More worthy of note is all the large fields on a 12-race card, perhaps a sign that horsemen are eager to get in one more Churchill start before scattering to their different summer venues.

Except for the second race, which got just six starters, fans will have plenty from which to choose throughout the day. The nominal feature, a one-mile turf race that goes as the 11th, is typical of the big fields as it was oversubscribed with 17 horses, five of them relegated to an also-eligibles list.

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger and his longtime business partner, Ian Wilkes, each have contenders in the 11th, with the uncoupled duo of Prado Dash and Versailles Road, respectively. Prado Dash, with leading jockey Julien Leparoux to ride, will break from post 4 as the 5-2 morning-line favorite, while Versailles Road, the 4-1 second choice, will leave from post 2 with Robby Albarado aboard.

Nafzger and Wilkes long have shared a barn at Churchill while also having shifted much of the emphasis of their sizable operation in recent years to the Skylight Training Center, located some 25 miles east of Churchill in Goshen, Ky. At Skylight, longtime assistant Bob Tucker oversees much of the comings and goings when Nafzger and Wilkes are attending to other matters.

The June 22 tornado that damaged a number of barns on the Churchill backside rendered the Nafzger/Wilkes barn temporarily unusable, forcing them to relocate their horses. About eight were moved to another Churchill barn, while the rest were shipped to Skylight.

“We’re especially busy out at Skylight right now,” said Tucker, who will remain behind when Nafzger and Wilkes leave with a large string for the Saratoga meet that begins July 22. “I imagine it’ll calm down a little once Carl and Ian head up to Saratoga.”

Both Prado Dash and Versailles Road were Skylight regulars even before the tornado, and both have trained steadily over the Pro-Ride synthetic surface in recent weeks.

Other logical contenders in the Sunday feature include Papaw Bodie, Seton Hall, and Southern Ocean.

The balance of the Sunday card includes no fewer than six maiden races, half of them special-weight events.

Sunday marks the penultimate program of the 39-day spring meet. The closing-day program Monday will consist of 11 races, anchored by the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap. First post both days is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

Churchill has billed the final days of the meet as “Red, White, and Blues Weekend” and is offering a variety of specials to ontrack customers.