06/01/2012 12:27PM

Churchill Downs: Tonto Fontenot heads feature contenders


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Lacking a sufficient pool of horses from which to draw, the Churchill Downs racing office struggled to put together a 10-race program for Sunday, with the end result being six maiden races.

The lone allowance of the card, a $65,500 turf mile for older horses, occupies the customary race-nine feature slot, and if it holds together, it will serve as a decent anchor for what figures to be an otherwise forgettable day of sport. Churchill had just three maiden races in the condition book for Sunday, but lacking entries in some of the more appealing spots, racing officials had little choice but to expand its offerings among those ranks of non-winners.

All this could lead into yet another dissertation about how slots-fueled purses in other racing states are inflicting substantial harm on Kentucky, but perhaps that’s a beat-a-dead-horse conversation for another day. As Sunday goes, the feature shapes up as a fine betting race, with no clear-cut favorite and a sizable field to keep horseplayers content, if only temporarily.

Tonto Fontenot is one of a handful of logical contenders in a race that carries a third-level condition and an $80,000 claiming option. Trained by Bobby Barnett, who topped the trainer standings here at the 1999 fall meet, Tonto Fontenot will be trying to rebound off a lackluster sixth-place finish as the 2-1 favorite for similar conditions on the Kentucky Derby undercard when the race was transferred off the turf because of wet conditions.

“He washed out really bad,” said Barnett, a 62-year-old Texas native with more than 1,350 lifetime victories. “He’d never seen that many people, and it really got to him. Obviously he’s better than that, and hopefully he’ll show it Sunday.”

Barnett said he prefers the race stay on turf, and the forecast is likely to accommodate him. Heavy Thursday night rain into Friday morning forced Churchill to move its two turf races on the Friday twilight card to the main track.

Tonto Fontenot, with Shane Sellers to ride, was assigned post 5 in a field of 11, which includes one “main track only” entrant, Ghostwalking.

Other viable threats include Mystic, making his second start following a layoff also his second for trainer Tom Amoss; Silver Rock, a Mark Casse-trained 5-year-old with a 2-for-2 record in Kentucky and 1-for-8 elsewhere; Longhunter, a British-bred gelding now under the care of Darrin Miller after being competitive in stakes last year for Christophe Clement; and The Program, second at 11-1 in the Derby Day off-the-turf race for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and trainer Ronny Werner.

First post for the Sunday card is 12:45 p.m. Eastern. After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for three days before another four-day race week resumes Thursday. There is no stakes race scheduled here next weekend as Churchill defers to the simulcast of the Belmont Stakes.