05/19/2010 11:00PM

Churchill roundup




Already topping the rider standings at Churchill Downs, Calvin Borel won with 6 of 13 mounts last week - more winners than any other rider for the week, even though he rode at the track just two days due to riding at Pimlico last Friday and Saturday. He went 3 for 7 last Wednesday, and 3 for 6 last Sunday at Churchill.

For the meet, Borel was 22 for 78, giving him a nine-win margin over his next closest pursuer, Julien Leparoux.

He was 21 for 68 on the main track (31 percent winners), compared to 1 for 10 on turf.

The most remarkable Borel statistic is this: when the Churchill main track has been wet this meet, he was an astonishing 13 for 25 (52 percent winners) through last week, which includes a victory on Super Saver during a sloppy Kentucky Derby.

He is still quite good on a fast track, too - having gone 8 for 43 (19 percent), but even that solid statistic pales in comparison to his record on an off track at Churchill.

Borel loves to hug the fence, and typically at Churchill, right on top of the fence is the desired path when it is wet.

As for other riders, jockeys Corey Lanerie (5 for 26 last week), Jamie Theriot (4 for 20), Francisco Torres (4 for 22), and Alex Solis (3 for 13) capitalized most last week from the absences of some leading jockeys with out-of-town riding assignments. They got more opportunities and made the most of them.


Trainers Paul McGee, Tom Proctor, and Steve Asmussen went on a tear last week. McGee went 4 for 6, and all of his runners hit the board; Proctor went 3 for 4 with the one loser finishing second; and Asmussen was 3 for 9, maintaining a lead in the overall trainer standings.

For McGee, it was one of those weeks where everything seemed to fall into place. And that was clearly evident in the last race Sunday, a contest he took with Forest Warfare.

The horse, on the also-eligible list as a main track-only entrant, got a chance to start when racing was taken off the turf due to inclement weather and then caught a sloppy track that he adores. Oh yes, he also capitalized on the services of wet-riding sensation Borel.

Just as he had in an earlier race in the mud on opening day at Churchill, Borel gunned Forest Warfare to the lead from his outside draw. After settling Forest Warfare down on the lead and scraping paint, Borel easily turned back Sporty to win on Forest Warfare.

Asmussen, meanwhile, took the big race of the week, the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes, with Thiskyhasnolimit.

The Asmussen team, led at Churchill by assistant Scott Blasi, had the colt primed for a top performance in his first start since late November.

Entering this week, Asmussen was 10 for 42, giving him a four-win edge in the trainer standings, ahead of McGee, Dale Romans, Greg Foley, Todd Pletcher, and Steve Margolis - who have six wins apiece.


Veteran jockeys Solis and Corey Nakatani have won more than 8,000 races between them - with Solis notching 4,775 and Nakatani 3,348. They've won riding titles, Breeders' Cup races, and Solis even has piloted a Preakness Stakes winner in Snow Chief in 1986 and a Dubai World Cup winner in Pleasantly Perfect in 2004.

Yet both have struggled to get mounts at Churchill Downs after shifting their tack here. Solis had ridden just 33 horses at the meet through last week, Nakatani 29.

By way of comparison, Miguel Mena had ridden a meet-topping 81 horses here.

Solis had ridden four winners, Nakatani two.


Thursday, May 13: The track was fast to begin the card, but didn't stay fast for long. Soon after the first race was run, the skies opened up and rain pounded the track for about 30 minutes to an hour, turning the main track sloppy. Then, with sunshine reappearing, the main track gradually dried out, with Equibase officially calling the track wet-fast for the final two races.

The track was not sealed until after the second race.

Both turf races were run under what Equibase called good turf conditions.

Friday, May 14: The main track seemed to play fairly. Inside trips fared well, seemingly more due to ground-saving than a bias. Two of three turf races, contested with the rail out 22 feet, were won on the lead.

Saturday, May 15: Stalkers and closers were most effective, usually racing from two to four paths off the fence. Then again, Borel was at Pimlico riding, so the inside didn't get as many tests as usual.

Sunday, May 16: Beginning in the morning and continuing all afternoon, steady rain fell, leaving the main track sloppy and resulting in the scheduled turf races being moved to the main track. Although the rail treated those horses ridden by Borel well, horses were able to win from a variety of different positions on the racetrack.


Majesticperfection, coming off an April 1 victory at Oaklawn in which he romped and posted a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, had a right to regress off such a big figure racing at Churchill in a tougher second-level allowance May 14. But his regression in terms of figures was minimal, a promising sign for his future, and he again dropped jaws with another smashing performance.

Bounding out to the lead effortlessly, he poured on the acceleration in the lane to win by four lengths, running six furlongs in 1:08.37 and earning a 100 Beyer. That included a final quarter in a sparkling 23.21 seconds. He has a stakes future in front of him.

Also catching the eye last week were a pair of juvenile first-out winners, Salty Strike and Kantharos. Kantharos, a Smart Strike filly trained by Ken McPeek, earned a 76 Beyer for her maiden victory May 14, while Kantharos, a Lion Heart colt from the Asmussen stable, posted a 70 Beyer for his win over off going May 13.


Churchill, like many tracks across the country this year, has had difficulty filling races, even on just a four-day racing schedule. Fields are averaging 7.8 horses per race, but dropped to 7.2 runners per race last week. Rainy weather somewhat contributed to last week's dip, particularly last Sunday, when two races were moved to a sloppy main track.

Short fields prove unappealing to horseplayers and are particularly damaging to the handle when the number of starters falls below six for a given race. According to Kentucky rules, superfecta wagering is canceled when five or fewer horses start.


Two elder citizens of the racetrack, 9-year-old marathoner Brass Hat and 10-year-old Silverfoot, are the expected headliners for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Louisville Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race.

Brass Hat, second in the Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 23, is the defending Louisville Handicap champ and is expected to be one of the favorites.

Silverfoot has three Louisville Handicaps to his credit, winning consecutive renewals of this race from 2004-2006. He is unplaced in two races this year.


Sparky's Dream

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Last race: May 13, 7th

Finish: 2nd by 1

Steadied in traffic on the second turn, this filly kicked into gear once wheeled to the outside and went from ninth after six furlongs to second by the eighth pole, the 7 1/2-furlong stage of the 1 1/16-mile turf race. Although unable to pass victorious Snow Top Mountain in the lane, she had the tougher trip of the two and was probably better.

Blue Orleans

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last race: May 14, 7th

Finish: 2nd by 4 1/4

Off a step slow when she made her debut in a five-furlong dash for 2-year-old fillies, she recovered quickly but was hung wide around the turn. Nevertheless, she proved a clear second to Salty Strike, a talented miss.

Our Douglas

Trainer: Tom Proctor

Last race: May 14, 10th

Finish:1st by a 3 1/4

Last of 10 early in a relatively paceless event, this colt blew past horses on the final turn with a five-wide rally and drew clear in the lane to score an easy win over a graded-placed 3-year-old in Worldly. This colt acts ready to take the next step and should prove a major factor in stakes company.

More Than Willing

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Last race: May 16, 10th

Finish: 5th by 8 1/4

Coming off a wide second in a turf race at Keeneland on April 23, this colt struggled in a race taken off the grass and moved to a sloppy main track. He never got involved, apparently disliking the going. Give him another shot with a return to grass.