11/25/2011 12:34PM

Churchill: Equestrio leads stakes-caliber cast


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There have been plenty of bangs at Churchill Downs this fall, so it probably isn’t unfair to say the 21-day meet will end Sunday with a whimper. Not that the finale is a bad card – it isn’t.

But compared with all the important racing events that have taken place here since the meet began Oct. 30 – two days of the Breeders’ Cup, two Stars of Tomorrow programs, a terrific renewal of the Clark Handicap, and plenty of other notable races in between – the 11-race Sunday program and its mere four allowance races are regular fare.

All good. The richest of the Sunday races is the fifth, a $54,000, stakes-caliber allowance that drew seven older horses going a one-turn-mile. Equestrio, who skipped the Clark in search of this less demanding spot, figures to be a major player after breaking from post 1 with Jesus Castanon aboard for Nick Zito.

A 4-year-old colt owned by the Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable, Equestrio ran a huge race here in the spring when third in a three-horse photo to First Dude and Regal Ransom in the Grade 3 Alysheba. Although he has just one victory and four off-the-board finishes in his five subsequent races, Equestrio has the class to get back in the win column Sunday, when his main rivals will be Modern Cowboy and Tend. The race carries a $100,000 claiming option, which the connections of one starter, Color Me Blue, chose to exercise.

The other three Sunday allowances follow soon enough.

Race 7 is for 2-year-olds, of which there seemed to be a bottomless supply of good ones here this fall. It’s a $48,000, first-level race that drew 11 fillies, with either of the uncoupled Ken McPeek duo of Dream Pegasus and Woodford Lady looking good enough to prevail in a well-matched group. Other logical contenders include Taxi Dancer, Miz Ida, and Annie Russell.

Race 9 is a $48,000, first-level sprint for fillies and mares, with Sterling Madame, trained by Tom Amoss, likely to come favored after winning a maiden race here three weeks ago by six lengths. Iones Folly and Anecdote look like the main challengers in a field of 11.

Race 10 is a $50,000, second-level turf route for 3-year-olds and upward. Twinspired will be trying to get back on the beam when part of an oversubscribed race for which 14 are on the program but only 12 can start. Twinspired, second by a nose in the Blue Grass Stakes in the spring, had a very wide trip in his last start at Keeneland for Mike Maker, who held a tenuous lead over Steve Asmussen atop the trainer standings as this fall meet went into its last few days.

Churchill is offering free admission and a calendar giveaway for closing day, when first post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern. As usual, the end of a race meet means all jackpot wagers must be paid out, even in the case of no perfect tickets.

Turfway Park in northern Kentucky picks up live action on the circuit when starting four-plus months of racing Thursday.