12/03/2009 12:00AM

Churchill Downs roundup



With jockey Julien Leparoux missing the final two days of the meet last week because of riding engagements in Japan, Calvin Borel was widely expected to win the riding title.

He did, or more accurately, he and Leparoux shared it. Borel won three races Saturday, closing day, to tie Leparoux with 27 winners, but he could not surpass him after Leparoux had won 11 races with 32 mounts over the first four days of racing last week.

Borel was a bit unlucky, with 11 runner-up finishes over the final week; Leparoux had one runner-up finish.

Nevertheless, if two riders deserved to share the title, it was these two. They rode well.

Leparoux, interestingly, managed his banner meet despite going 1 for 23 over the first five days of racing at Churchill Downs. That meant he finished by going 26 for 86 - a win clip of 30 percent.

Other riders making a splash closing week were Francisco Torres, who went 6 for 37 to finish fifth in the standings, and E.T. Baird, who was 4 for 14 closing week in limited action. Even Israel Ocampo broke out of his slump late by winning three races over the final three days.

Steve Asmussen won the Churchill training title, holding off Dale Romans by a 17-16 margin. Romans won six races closing week to Asmussen's three.

Trainer Hal Wiggins, who retired following the conclusion of the Churchill meet, went 3 for 5 closing week and, in a fitting end to his career, won with his final starter, High Spirit, who took the 10th race at Churchill Downs on Friday at odds of 26-1.


Of the big-name riders at Churchill Downs, Robby Albarado had the quietest finish, going 2 for 28 closing week, leading to an eighth-place finish in the jockey standings. Surprisingly, this came despite an opening day in which he won four races.

No one was in less of a winning groove at Churchill than successful New York-based rider Rajiv Maragh. It seemed nothing went right when he rode under the Twin Spires, going 0 for 24 at Churchill.

As far as trainers, Helen Pitts and Buff Bradley both had a frustrating final week, with Pitts going 0 for 12 and Bradley 0 for 11. At least they each won a race at the meet.

The Pitts-trained Einstein ran well in the Clark in what was expected to be his final start, finishing third to Blame.

Of trainers with 12 or more starters throughout the fall at Churchill Downs, David Vance, Neil Howard, Ronny Werner, Mike Lauer, Dallas Stewart, and Barbara McBride failed to win a race. Many of those trainers are accustomed to winning at a good clip.


The Churchill track played fairly to all styles, which in a sense makes it quite different from other dirt tracks in that closers can be successful there.

Horses were able to win from several paths off the rail or along the fence. But in keeping with trends seen earlier in the meet, in sprints it was better to draw in the middle to outside.


Nickel claimers, and a lot of them, as racing has shifted to Turfway Park in Florence. Although fields have been large there, the quality of racing - at this early stage - is down in a major way.

Horseplayers still wishing to bet the Kentucky circuit this winter will need to fine-tune their handicapping toward low-end claiming stock.

Most of the better horses are headed out of town, though some will stick around before Oaklawn Park opens in January.


In winning the Grand Canyon Handicap by racing 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.69, Lost Aptitude proved he has no juvenile rival on the grass - at Churchill Downs, at least. He was the easiest of winners, cruising to a 5 1/4-length victory over the late-running Thunder Perfect while setting a legitimate pace under an easy hold.

It was his second straight victory over the Churchill Downs turf course, and in the coming months, he will have an opportunity to show whether he is a rising grass star or simply a freak over the Churchill Downs lawn.

The feeling here is that we are going to see big things from this small but talented colt in the next year. Horses that pair up turf Beyers in the 90s as juveniles - as he did at Churchill Downs this fall - are few and far between.



Trainer: Bob Baffert

Last Race: Nov. 27, 11th

Finish: 2nd by neck

Breaking from the 12 hole in a 14-horse field in the Clark, he performed admirably and lost by a neck to the red-hot Blame. Quite honestly, he may have been best. With speed inside of him and drawn so far out, he was hung four wide from start to finish, and though he raced in the clear, the ground he lost was the difference between victory and defeat. A versatile horse, he should have no trouble shifting back to racing on synthetic tracks in stakes at Santa Anita this winter.

Bobby B. Goode

Trainer: Dale Romans

Last Race: Nov. 27, 3rd

Finish: 4th by 1 1/2

Negatively drawn in post 2 in a sprint, he was hounded on the lead by a rival to his inside, and after setting a fast pace, he understandably weakened in the lane. He also had a reason to regress following a win earlier in the meet with a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure. A versatile colt, he can handle turf, synthetic, and dirt tracks. He remains eligible for a nonwinners-of-three claimer or a first-level allowance.

Moon Town

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Last Race: Nov. 26, 10th

Finish: 1st by 5 1/4

Making his first start on grass, this talented colt passed the test with flying colors, unleashing a brilliant turn move to take command and drawing off to an easy score in fast time. His performance earned him a 94 Beyer, down from the 102 he posted in winning an allowance at Keeneland last month, but the race was no less impressive. Two for two at seven furlongs on Polytrack, he looks well suited to a possible start in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.