05/05/2011 10:47AM

Churchill Downs Stakes comes up with deep field of 12


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – They are not running the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Saturday at Churchill Downs. It only seems that way.

Aside from defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama, very few of the top older sprinters in the country are missing from the 12-horse field entered in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Churchill Downs Stakes at seven furlongs. Four of the 12 horses entered are Grade 1 winners, including Capt. Candyman Can, Smiling Tiger, Noble’s Promise, and Here Comes Ben. The latter two horses are making their first start of the year, which could leave them at a disadvantage.

Capt. Candyman Can and Smiling Tiger have both won their last two starts, but perhaps Capt. Candyman Can holds a slight edge, given his affinity for the course, his 5-for-5 record at the distance, and the fact he’s got Calvin Borel to ride.

After missing his entire 4-year-old season due to a chip in a knee, Capt. Candyman Can came back with narrow victories in the Super Stakes at Tampa and the Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream. Trainer Ian Wilkes believes his horse is ready for a return to graded stakes company.

“I really feel the horse has improved since that race,” Wilkes said, referring to the Sir Shackleton. “I just like the way he’s doing. He’s coming back to form, which is hard to say given that he’s won two stakes this year.”

Smiling Tiger, who finished third to Big Drama in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, comes in off wins in the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita in February and the Grade 3 Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn on April 14.

“He had a really easy time of it in Arkansas and kind of thrived down there and came out of the race really well,” trainer Jeff Bonde said.

Trainer David Fawkes has Big Drama resting for later in the year but may have a suitable replacement in Apriority, who was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Morning Line in the Grade 1 Carter at Aqueduct. In his race prior to that, Apriority just missed the Gulfstream Park track record for 6 1/2 furlongs when winning an allowance race over Aikenite, who came back to win the Grade 2 Commonwealth at Keeneland and also is in this field.

“You look at the numbers, you could see he bounced a little, but hopefully we’ll move forward again,” Fawkes said.

Here Comes Ben, away since running 11th as the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile favorite, defeated Big Drama in the Grade 1 Forego last summer at Saratoga and is a three-time winner here.

Captain Cherokee was beaten a head by Smiling Tiger in the San Carlos and a head by Amazombie in the Portrero Grande on April 3.