06/12/2012 12:47PM

Churchill Downs notes: Alternation ready for Stephen Foster Handicap

Tom Keyser
Alternation will be seeking his fifth straight victory in Saturday night’s Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Alternation had a final tune-up for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap when breezing five furlongs Tuesday at Churchill Downs. The official time of 1:05.40 was irrelevant, according to trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.

“From the quarter pole, past the wire, and on around to the seven-eighths, it was more of a 35-ish work for three-eighths,” Von Hemel said. “He pretty much started out in a two-minute lick. We accomplished what we wanted him to, and that was to work well down the lane and gallop out real strong.”

Alternation, the No. 1-ranked horse in the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll, will be one of the favorites Saturday night at Churchill in the Grade 1, $400,000 Foster, a pivotal race also expected to get such handicap standouts as Wise Dan, Ron the Greek, Nates Mineshaft, and Nehro. Alternation will be trying to extend his unbeaten record in 2012 to five races, having captured the Oaklawn Handicap and Pimlico Special in his last two races.

“It seems the last few times we’ve brought him over, the races have shaped up real tough,” Von Hemel said. “This is a Grade 1, so it’s supposed to be tough. Hopefully, we’ll be right there again and get a big chunk of it.”

The 1 1/8-mile Foster is a Win and You’re In event toward the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Entries were to be drawn Wednesday for an 11-race Saturday card, which starts at 6 p.m. Eastern as the second of three Downs After Dark programs this month. Three other graded races also will be run – the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, Grade 3 Matt Winn, and Grade 3 Regret.

Mark Valeski has chip removed

Mark Valeski was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday morning at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington to have a small chip removed from his left front knee, trainer Larry Jones said. Winner of the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park in his last start May 12, Mark Valeski will be out indefinitely, although Jones is optimistic he will have the colt back by the Fair Grounds meet that starts in late November.

“The funny thing is there was no swelling in the knee, no heat or inflammation,” Jones said. “He just wasn’t going right. He seemed to be a little ouchy hitting the ground, and we finally zeroed in and found what was wrong. It was a little displaced flake that was causing him some problems and needed to come out. It was probably just a tiny piece of an old spur. It really shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Meanwhile, another Jones standout, Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, will ship Saturday to Belmont Park for final preparations for the Grade 1 Mother Goose on June 23. The filly breezed a bullet five furlongs Monday in 59.60 seconds.

“She’s doing just fabulous,” Jones said.

Both Mark Valeski and Believe You Can are homebreds owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones.

Tapitsfly eyes Firecracker Handicap

Trainer Dale Romans said he is seriously considering a run against males in the Firecracker Handicap for Tapitsfly, the 5-year-old mare who led all the way in capturing the Grade 1 Just a Game last Saturday on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

“If she trains the way she had been, I think that’s the way we’ll go,” Romans said.

Tapitsfly, winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and an earner of more than $1.25 million for owner-breeder Frank Jones, could be the favorite in the Grade 2, $150,000 Firecracker, a one-mile turf race set for closing day, July 1.

Brushed by a Star upests at 16-1

A filly defeated the boys in one of three allowance races held here Sunday when Brushed by a Star, with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding for trainer Grant Forster, led all the way at a ripe 16-1 mutuel. The race was the second since a layoff for Brushed by a Star, a 4-year-old daughter of Eddington.

The upset was one of a handful on the day and helped trigger a late pick four that returned $7,605.20 for every 50-cent bet. From a pool of $103,362, there was just $5.50 in winning tickets sold on the winning combination of 3-8-5-6.

Juveniles get a shot on the grass

The first turf race for 2-year-olds in Kentucky this year are carded for this week, with the first being run Thursday as race 3 and the second coming Friday as race 6.

Churchill racing secretary Ben Huffman said he waits until the third of three condition books to begin scheduling 2-year-old turf races, which often prove popular with horsemen eager to try their young horses on a different surface. Clearly, carding too many grass races earlier in the meet could take a toll on the course, which is why Huffman waits until late in the meet.

Romans, Lanerie top standings

With just 12 of 39 racing dates remaining at the meet, Romans has a tenuous lead atop the crowded trainer standings. Into Thursday action, Romans has 12 wins, followed by Tom Amoss (11), Brad Cox (10), Bret Calhoun (10), Steve Asmussen (9), and Dane Kobiskie (9).

Meanwhile, Corey Lanerie, shooting for his first Churchill title, has widened his lead atop the jockey standings after another very productive week. Lanerie has 45 winners, followed by Shaun Bridgmohan with 33.

◗ Field size at Churchill during the fall meet, when far more 2-year-olds are race-ready, is typically about nine horses per race. But it’s a different story here in the spring, when the racing office often struggles to put together competitive programs with deep fields.

At various stages in their respective meets, here is how average field size at Churchill currently compares with other tracks (Thoroughbreds only): Indiana Downs, 8.4; Arlington Park, 8.3; Belmont Park, 8.2; Churchill, 7.6; Monmouth Park, 7.6; and Presque Isle Downs, 7.4.

◗ Two allowances – one early, one late – highlight an 11-race Friday twilight card at Churchill, where first post will be 2:45 p.m. Race 3 is a second-level turf sprint, and race 10 is a first-level sprint on the main track.

– additional reporting by Byron King