05/03/2011 1:34PM

Churchill Downs: No stakes, but several high-quality horses in three allowance races


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Years ago, they ran the La Troienne on the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby, and then it was the Mamzelle for filly and mare turf sprinters or the Kentucky Stakes for 2-year-olds. This year, owing to cutbacks and revisions in the spring-meet stakes schedule at Churchill Downs, it’s just allowance races anchoring what is loosely known as Derby Eve eve, a festive day when upward of 20,000 fans will be here to get their early Derby jones on.

Three allowances (races 5, 9, 10) dot an 11-race card, with two of them scheduled for the grass course, which has undergone a near-constant soaking in recent days and weeks. Whether wet conditions will necessitate those races being transferred to the main track is a decision reserved for raceday morning, although the forecasts for Wednesday and Thursday called for a merciful end to the rain, perhaps allowing things to proceed as scheduled.

Race 9, scheduled for a one-turn-mile on the main track, is a $59,800 race with open conditions. El Caballo, briefly considered for the Alysheba and Woodford Reserve, instead will be in for a $100,000 claiming option as one of the favorites in a field of seven older horses. El Caballo, a 7-year-old horse, has 6 wins and 5 seconds from just 16 career starts for earnings of nearly $365,000.

“He’s had a lot of vacations,” explained trainer Ralph Nicks. “I’m sure we’re getting near the end of his career at some point. The old horse is training well, he had a decent race off this last layoff, and this race was right there for him. We don’t have a lot of options with him anymore. He looks like he’ll be real competitive in there.”

Race 5, the first scheduled for a mile on the grass, also has a $59,800 purse with similar money-won conditions and a $100,000 claiming option. Furthest Land, winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and Sleepless Knight, second in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Handicap, look like the top horses there.

Race 10 is a $51,000, first-level allowance scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on grass, with the uncoupled Todd Pletcher duo of Tetelestai and Ocean Seven being part of an oversubscribed field.

First post Thursday is 12:45 p.m. Eastern. First post both Oaks and Derby Days is 10:30 a.m.