01/05/2008 1:00AM

Churchill Downs trio look strongest


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Perhaps an interesting proposition wager, at least for early in the Gulfstream Park meet, would be to group horses by where they last raced. The New York contingent invariably would take major play, while Calder horses also would be well-bet if for no other reason than they often are the largest group.

Kentucky horses also would have backers, but rarely to the extent that they would if this theoretical prop was actually offered on the Monday feature at Gulfstream. Four horses, including the lone also-eligible in a field of 13 older horses, made their last start at Churchill Downs, and all of them look capable of winning.

Chief Gone West and Sacrifice Bunt, an uncoupled entry from the Bill Mott stable, both enter off runner-up finishes for the same first-level allowance condition that governs Monday's feature, the eighth of nine races on the card. Bullet Rain, trained by Dale Romans, was a sharp maiden winner in his Churchill finale. And Dr. Pleasure, on the also-eligibles list for trainer John Ward, was fourth in this condition as a lukewarm favorite last out.

Chief Gone West, owned by the Zayat Stables, looks like a logical stand-alone favorite in the race, which carries a $40,500 purse and is set for a mile, starting out of the main-track chute. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux rode the 4-year-old Chief Gone West when he just missed nailing Rockdundo in a Nov. 11 mile at Churchill, and he will be back aboard Monday, breaking from post 11.

Sacrifice Bunt, bred and owned by Bruce Lunsford, will have lots of catching up to do, assuming he lags far back early as usual. But if a rapid pace develops in this bulky field, he could be the one moving fastest at the end.

Bullet Rain ran so well in a narrow defeat for maiden-claiming runners that Romans thought he merited a raise to special weights, and the colt responded with flying colors on Nov. 23 when drawing clear for a victory.

Dr. Pleasure would be dangerous if he draws in. The 5-year-old finished third behind Bernardini in the 2006 Travers Stakes, and although winless in four subsequent starts, he is long overdue to clear this condition.

Following Monday's racing, Gulfstream will be dark for one day, after which a six-day race week starts on Wednesday.