04/29/2011 4:53PM

Churchill Downs: Woodford Reserve shaping up full

Bob Coglianese
Little Mike, with Joe Bravo, wins the Appleton.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby and Oaks aren’t the only sensational betting races shaping up for next weekend at Churchill Downs. The Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is expected to get its 14-horse limit, and with top horses coming from all over the map, it looks like it will be easily the most important middle-distance grass race in North America so far this year.

Jason Boulet, who is serving as stakes coordinator at Churchill through Derby week, said Friday that the connections of at least 16 horses have expressed interested in going in the 1 1/8-mile race. Among that prospective cast is Al Khali, Battle of Hastings, Caracortado, Court Vision, Doubles Partner, Expansion, Get Stormy, Little Mike, Prince Will I Am, and Smart Bid.

Little Mike, a wire-to-wire winner of three graded turf stakes at the recently ended Gulfstream Park meet, won’t be afforded anything easy up front by fellow speedsters Get Stormy and Citrus Kid, conceded his trainer, Dale Romans.

“The race couldn’t have come up a whole lot tougher,” said Romans.

A couple of notable absentees from the Woodford are Gio Ponti, who last raced March 26 in the Dubai World Cup, and Paddy O’Prado, who Romans is pointing to the May 21 Dixie on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico.

Entries for the Woodford and all Derby Day races will be drawn Wednesday. The Woodford is always run as the race before the Derby.