06/26/2013 2:10PM

Churchill Downs: Title Contender looks to regain confidence in first-level allowance


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Horseplayers who get burnt after being a little too ambitious can sometimes be heard lamenting, “I don’t want the cheese anymore – just let me out of the trap.”

The same sort of adage might apply to the way horses are spotted. Take the case of a 3-year-old named Title Contender. After a maiden win in September at Santa Anita, Title Contender’s connections ran him in back-to-back Grade 1 races, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the CashCall Futurity. But now there have been five straight defeats, including blowout losses in those two major events in California, as well as a change in trainers.

All that’s wanted now is to make it through a first allowance condition.

“We just want to get his confidence back,” said Wayne Catalano, who assumed the training of Title Contender for Gary and Mary West in late February.

Following a 9 1/2-length loss for Title Contender in the March 16 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Catalano dialed back. He worked Title Contender three times before running him in a first-level allowance sprint May 19 at Churchill. Title Contender ran evenly, finishing in the middle of the pack of 11, with the red-hot No Distinction prevailing.

“I thought it was a good race for him,” said Catalano, who since then has put Title Contender through four more workouts at Churchill. “Now we stretch him back out and see what we’ve got. I do think he’s a nice horse.”

That next move comes Friday in the only allowance on a twilight program at Churchill. Title Contender, with leading jockey Shaun Bridgmohan riding from post 8, is part of a full field of 12 3-year-olds in the nominal feature, a $52,000, 1 1/16-mile race carded as the 10th of 11.

Title Contender is just one of a handful of viable threats in an extremely well-matched race. Another who tried and failed on the Triple Crown trail, Proud Strike, will break from post 10 with Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard. Proud Strike returns as a beaten odds-on favorite from a similar spot June 7, although older horses were part of that group.

Others meriting strong consideration include Caliparty, Summit County, Town Hall, Hard Aces, and Tiz Now My Choice.

First post is 2:45 p.m. Eastern, with the feature set for 7:24 and the last race for 7:54. Churchill has presented live music and cut-rate concessions every post-Derby Friday in the new Plaza area, with crowd size appearing to pick up with each passing week.