06/07/2012 10:31AM

Churchill Downs: Seruni fits well in Opening Verse Stakes


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Enough of the suspense. Racing fans will be feeling plenty of it all day Saturday.

By running the nominal Saturday feature early on the card, Churchill Downs is partly deferring, no doubt, to its Triple Crown partner, Belmont Park, and the momentous event that will take place about 6:42 p.m. Eastern, when I’ll Have Another makes his bid to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.

The $73,600 Opening Verse, a decent enough race for older turf horses, goes as the fifth of 11 Saturday races when serving as a mere appetizer for local horseplayers as they await the simulcast of the 144th Belmont Stakes from New York. With the first Churchill race going at 12:45 p.m., the Opening Verse is set for 2:48, and the last race for 5:55.

Phil Oliver, the 42-year-old Englishman who has enjoyed a terrific start to the Churchill spring meet by winning with 3 of his first 6 starters, has two of the eight entered in the Opening Verse but said he most likely will run just one. Middie, part of Oliver’s uncoupled entry, will scratch in favor of an upcoming race at Arlington or Churchill, while Seruni, with leading jockey Corey Lanerie to ride, will carry the familiar green and white silks of Oliver’s father-in-law, G. Watts Humphrey.

Seruni, a 5-year-old gelding by the late Saint Liam, has been in terrific form and figures to vie for favoritism in the 1 1/16-mile race with Guys Reward and Scotus.

“He really is doing good,” Oliver said early Thursday from his home base at Keeneland. “I ran him pretty hard last year and kind of gave him the winter off and then couldn’t find a good spot to run him when we were bringing him back. I settled on that stake,” the Grade 3 Canadian Turf on March 3 at Gulfstream Park, “and didn’t really have him cranked up.”

Otherwise, Seruni has used his consistency and tractable running style to be first or second in every start since last October at Keeneland, earning Beyer Speed Figures in the 90s in every one of them. Those numbers seem to match him up well with Guys Reward (Shaun Bridgmohan), who will break from the inside post, and Scotus (Ken McPeek), who will start from just outside of Seruni on the opposite end of the starting gate.

Both Guys Reward and Scotus will be saddled by assistants as their respective trainers, Dale Romans and Ken McPeek, have horses in the Belmont. Romans has one of the major contenders in Dullahan, while McPeek sends out the longshot duo of Atigun and Unstoppable U.

The purse for the Opening Verse, named for the winner of the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Mile over the Churchill turf, includes $12,500 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. One allowance (race 8), a $59,800, first-level turf sprint, also is on a Saturday card otherwise filled out by maiden and claiming events.