05/26/2010 11:00PM

Churchill roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Freddie Lenclud and Miguel Mena

With leading rider Calvin Borel taking off all of his mounts last week with an eye infection and reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux away until late June because of an injured back, Lenclud and Mena took advantage. Lenclud, an apprentice, won with 8 of 25 mounts, and Mena had the second-most productive week, going 6 for 24.

Francisco Torres also won the big prize of the week, winning the $100,000 Louisville Handicap aboard longshot Free Fighter.

Borel is expected back this week.

Bill Connelly

Trainer Bill Connelly made the most of his opportunities last week, going 2 for 2, pushing his meet total to 5 for 10.

He was one of eight trainers to win a pair of races over that stretch, with the others being Bill Mott (2 for 8), Greg Foley (2 for 7), Mike Lauer (2 for 4), Mike Maker (2 for 5), Scooter Dickey (2 for 3), Ken McPeek (2 for 5), and Eddie

Kenneally (2 for 5).

Foley's successful week pushed him into second place in the trainer standings with eight victories. Steve Asmussen is in front with 11 winners.

WHO'S NOT

Alex Solis andCorey Nakatani

Even with Borel and Leparoux not riding last week - opening up opportunities for other riders - California transplants Alex Solis and Corey Nakatani failed to make much of a splash.

Solis did manage seven top-three finishes with his 16 mounts, but only one was victorious.

Nakatani went 0 for 8. Only one of his mounts hit the board.

Dale Romans

Horses from the Dale Romans barn often fired last week. They just didn't find the winner's circle.

Starting more horses than any other trainer over the course of the four-day racing week, Romans went 0 for 12, but four runners ran second and another two were third.

When a trainer's horses pick up minor awards in that fashion, they usually heat up in the weeks ahead. They are in form and, because the winners of their previous race are forced to move up in class, they are likely to return in good spots because the winners from their previous race are forced to move up in class.

SHORT FIELDS CONTINUE

Field size last week at Churchill Downs remained low, averaging 7.2 runners per race. This skimpy average is in line with many tracks, which are struggling to fill races.

TRACK TRENDS

Thursday, May 20: The main track played fairly to all running styles, though most of the winners on the card were off the fence. Wide rallies were fairly successful. Speed horses performed well on the turf, as they figured to. The two grass races Thursday were run at five furlongs, a distance speed horses typically dominate.

Friday, May 21: The dirt track was noticeably quicker Friday, with even low-end claiming horses posting fast times. Horses racing in the two or three path were typically most successful. There was no apparent bias to the turf course.

Saturday, May 22: The main track was again lightning-quick, and the best part of the track seemed to be at least a lane or two off the inside. Following overnight rain, races 2 and 7, originally scheduled for turf, were moved to the fast main track. The featured Louisville Handicap was run on yielding ground.

Sunday, May 23: Repeating a trend seen since Friday, the main track was very quick. The turf course, somewhat dried out under hot, humid conditions, was listed by Equibase as "good."

EYE-CATCHING WINNERS

Weekend Wildcat, a son of Lion Heart who was a close second in his debut at Keeneland last month, was the fastest of the juvenile performers at Churchill last week, posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 76. Still a bit green, he won pressing the pace on the outside and appears to have room for further improvement.

Meanwhile, among the 3-year-olds, Safe Trip and Connie and Michael impressed most.

Safe Trip, a son of Tale of the Cat, looks to be a talented sprinter, having won both of his starts this year after going unplaced in his lone start as a juvenile.

In winning a swift first-level allowance May 23, he raced six furlongs in 1:08.80, earning a 93 Beyer.

Connie and Michael, a Roman Ruler filly, has already shown she can carry her speed farther. She led throughout in winning a mile race for first-level allowance horses May 20, earning a 90 Beyer in her first start of the year.

Here Comes Ben, a 4-year-old, looks poised to leap into stakes company after taking an optional claimer May 21, a race that ranked as the fastest of the week in terms of Beyers. His winning time of 1:21.11 for seven furlongs resulted in a 100 Beyer.

A versatile Street Cry colt capable of handling either dirt or Polytrack, he appears to be at his best between seven furlongs to a mile.

"BET-AGAINST" HORSES

Unlike the horses above, a few others caught the eye because they figure to be poor wagers when they return. Many look like horses to key against.

One such horse is Celadon, who broke poorly and rallied to be third in a five-furlong turf race for maidens. She will be overbet off the easy-to-notice troubled trip, but she made her debut in one of the weakest maiden races of the meet. No thanks as a probable underlay.

Similarly, You Better Believe, who ran third in a $8,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer, is one to play against next time out. He faded to third as the favorite May 20 after enjoying a relatively easy trip setting the pace in a 5 1/2-furlong race.

Chronic slow starter Jedi Code also lands on this list. Making his first start for a claiming price in a $30,000 N2L race May 21, he again came away slowly, digging a hole for himself, and then hung after making a menacing move in midstretch. He ran third, outgamed for the place.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

The stakes action, relatively limited at Churchill over the last four weeks after a glut of action on Oaks and Derby Day, picks up this week. The Grade 3 Dogwood and Grade 3 Aristides highlight the Saturday card, and the Grade 3 Winning Colors follows Monday on a special Memorial Day racing card.

Jody Slew, winner of the Tiffany Lass and Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds this winter, tuned up for an anticipated start in the Dogwood, a mile dirt race, with a four-furlong drill in 49.60 seconds at Churchill on Tuesday.

The Aristides, a six-furlong sprint for older horses, is expected to draw Atta Boy Roy, winner of the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day.

On Monday, Emmy Darling worked for the Winning Colors with a six-furlong breeze in 1:12 at Churchill. She was an allowance winner earlier in the meet.

HORSES TO WATCH

Evade

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: May 22, 2nd

Finish: 1st by 1/2

A versatile gelding capable of handling seemingly any track - be it dirt, Poly, or turf - he dropped in for $10,000 claiming and was claimed out of the race from Al Stall Jr. by owner-trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen is excellent with developing claims into top starter runners, and this one has the back class to suggest he could be a force in such races down the road.

Austons Sure Cure

Trainer: Dale Romans

Last race: May 21, 11th

Finish: 3rd by 1/2

Seems to be returning to peak form after a third-place finish in a first-level allowance on the turf. He has run a number of good races in the allowance ranks but has been unlucky to clear the first-level condition, often falling just short.

Kajiwara

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: May 23, 9th

Finish: 2nd by 1

Making his first start against winners, he performed well despite giving up experience to finish second to Safe Trip, a talented colt with seemingly a stakes future. This one, too, looks headed for bigger things.

Star Chamber

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: May 20, 9th

Finish: 5th by 3 3/4

Stuck breaking from the outside post in a 5 1/2-furlong dash for $8,000 nonwinners-of-two claiming stock, he ended up getting hung five wide and still ran a competitive race. A better draw, in the middle to inside, would suit this one as would a bit more ground.