04/21/2010 11:00PM

Churchill roundup

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FINISHING HOT

Heading into the final week of the Keeneland meet, jockey Garrett Gomez held a four-win advantage over Julien Leparoux, with Robby Albarado and Kent Desormeaux tied for third with 11 wins each.

Gomez continued his hot-riding ways at the meet last week, winning nine races from 26 mounts to outpace Albarado and Leparoux, who won six races apiece.

Many of Gomez's winners were price runners, which somewhat surprisingly was true throughout the meet. He was 17 for 53, a 32 percent clip, and a $2 wager on each would have yielded an average return of $2.72 - pretty hard to believe for a jockey who is arguably the biggest name in riding in the United States.

Also of note last week, jockey James Graham rode the 1,000th winner of his career when he piloted Mint Chip to victory in the seventh race at Keeneland last Thursday.

No trainer had a better week than Todd Pletcher. Pletcher won five races last week, none larger than Exhi's upset win in .

Pletcher finished last week 5 for 10, placing him in a tie with Christophe Clement heading into the final three days of racing at Keeneland. Both trainers have won six races.

FINISHING COLD

Jockeys Corey Lanerie, Jamie Theriot, Victor Lebron, and Francisco Torres did not visit the winner's circle last week at Keeneland, although each rode 10 races or more.

Miguel Mena (1 for 15), Shaun Bridgmohan (1 for 14), and Junior Alvarado (1 for 11) also were quiet.

Winless trainers last week with at least five starters included Phil Sims, Vicki Oliver, and Roger Attfield. Sims started 10 horses, and Oliver and Attfield each started six.

Sims was particularly unlucky at Keeneland, going 0 for 21 heading into the final week of racing. Many of his runners have performed well, with two running second, and six third - they just haven't picked up a top prize.

TRACK TRENDS

Remember the first couple of meets of the Polytrack era at Keeneland, when winning on the lead was virtually impossible? That is not the case anymore.

This meet in particular played almost like a dirt track in terms of favoring speed horses. That is not to suggest all dirt horses liked it, but speed, at least, was not a detriment.

Inside trips seemed to fare well, in contrast to how the Polytrack was playing at Turfway late in that meet.

These synthetic tracks, just like dirt tracks, also can become biased, or even shift bias from day to day.

PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK

Dubious Miss picked up a much-deserved stakes victory in the Ben Ali at Keeneland, the first of his career. Under confident handling from jockey Calvin Borel, he left his opponents behind in the stretch in a sharp performance that earned him a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.

A versatile horse, he bears watching next at Churchill Downs - a track he seems to like as much as Keeneland's Polytrack. He could prove a live longshot in the Stephen Foster Handicap in June, particularly if he retains Borel, who seems to bring out the best in Dubious Miss.

Shifting to the fillies, if there is a better female turf sprinter in the East than West Ocean, I haven't seen her. At least that is the impression I had after watching West Ocean win the Giant's Causeway Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths over Libor Lady, despite a four-wide trip.

Embur's Song also dropped jaws in her debut earlier on the card, winning by 13 1/4 lengths. A daughter of Unbridled's Song trained by Pletcher, she was born in Ontario and looks poised for some lucrative paydays in the major races for Canadian-breds this summer at Woodbine.

Final Mesa proved the flashiest juvenile winner of the meet, winning the opener by 7 1/2 lengths. Her time for 4 1/2 furlongs was 51.11 seconds, the fastest time at that distance this meet. A New York-bred daughter of Sky Mesa owned and trained by Wesley Ward, she appears to have a bright future.

CHURCHILL DOWNS UP NEXT

Following the conclusion of racing at Keeneland on Friday, racing shifts to Churchill Downs in Louisville on Saturday.

As usual, the Derby Trial kicks off the meet, and this year it might actually live up to its name. Two expected starters, Eightyfiveinafifty and Pleasant Prince, are possibilities for the Derby, depending on what shakes out in the Derby Trial.

The Derby is expected to be oversubscribed, and if more than 20 horses are entered when entries are taken for the Derby on April 28, graded stakes earnings will determine the starting field.

A victory would give Pleasant Prince enough graded earnings to secure a starting position in the Kentucky Derby. Eightyfiveinafifty would be on the bubble, depending on defections.

NEW FACES AT CHURCHILL

Unlike in past years, Gomez, Nakatani, and Alex Solis are expected to ride here regularly, at least early in the meet.

They join a deep jockey colony that includes Leparoux, Albarado, and Borel, who is consistently at his rail-skimming best at Churchill Downs.

With short fields expected later in the meet, and with Monmouth beginning its lucrative meet May 22, the colony is expected to be thinned in the coming weeks.

Other riders to watch opening week include Desormeaux and Bridgmohan.

Bridgmohan rides first call for trainer Steve Asmussen, who has started horses sparingly at Keeneland this spring, something expected to change when racing shifts to Churchill's dirt track.

Look for Asmussen to be a force in the trainer standings, along with Mike Maker, Dale Romans, Tom Amoss, Greg Foley, and Ken McPeek.

HORSES TO WATCH

Harvest Dance

Trainer: Clay Bischoff

Last race: April 14, 4th

Finish: 2nd by 1/4

In his debut against maiden $30,000 competition on Keeneland's Polytrack on April 14, he showed quality early speed to make the front and held on well to be a clear second behind favored Turbulence. Expect him to benefit from that start. As a son of Posse, his pedigree suggests he ought to be even more effective on traditional dirt than on a synthetic track.

Heavenville

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: April 17, 9th

Finish: 8th by 6

Broke sharply in the Lexington, as he usually does, but drawn in the nine hole with other speed inside of him, he was hung four wide for much of the race and came up empty in the lane. This was a deceptively good race, and he might prove capable of better with a return to dirt.

Another Dancer

Trainer: Timothy Locker

Last race: April 17, 10th

Finish: 2nd by 3 3/4

Hung wide in a fast-paced $10,000 claimer, this horse showed fight to take command, only to weaken in the final furlong and fade to second. A versatile horse, he can handle dirt or turf and is particularly dangerous when he makes the front. Look for him to run well in his next start for owner-trainer Timothy Locker, who claimed him from trainer Merrill Scherer.