06/30/2010 11:00PM

Churchill roundup



With the Churchill Downs meet concluding Sunday, here are some reflections:

* Due credit to those who played Super Saver to win the Derby - I didn't - but he has to rank as one of the most forgettable Derby winners in recent memory.

Putting aside that he ran eighth in the Preakness, Super Saver won the Derby under circumstances that favored him more than any other horse. He caught the slop, he hugged the fence for 90 percent of the race, he benefited from the leaders knocking themselves out with a fast pace up front, and he capitalized when those closing behind him ran into traffic problems, including Lookin At Lucky, who won the Preakness. Super Saver also ran a 104 Beyer Speed Figure, the second-lowest in the last 20 years.

If you can remember those who completed the superfecta behind him in the Derby, you have a better memory than me. I had to look it up to find it was Ice Box, Paddy O'Prado, and Make Music for Me.

* Super Saver's jockey, Calvin Borel, didn't fail to amaze in the Derby. He was able to rate his mount, a key question coming into the race, and he saved ground while never getting Super Saver stopped. No wonder he has won three of the last four Kentucky Derbies.

Riding the wave of momentum from the Derby, Borel also ran away with the race for leading rider at Churchill. He consistently outperformed his counterparts, particularly when the track was wet.

* As for the Kentucky Oaks, it was also a slow race. Favored Blind Luck won with a 94 Beyer and needed every inch of the 1 1/8 miles to catch runner-up Evening Jewel on the wire. A thrilling race, yes, but one timed in 1:50.70.

Like Super Saver, Blind Luck lost her next race, finishing second to Switch as the odds-on favorite in the Hollywood Oaks.

* Beyond the two big races, the story of the meet was Rachel Alexandra. It seemed like nearly every Monday she was out working, and she raced twice, losing in a hard-fought battle with Unrivaled Belle in the Grade 2 La Troienne on Oaks Day before seemingly returning to near-peak form by dusting an outclassed field in the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis Handicap on the Stephen Foster undercard.

* Blame staked his claim as one of the elite older horses in the country by winning the Stephen Foster under adverse conditions. Wide from the start, he had to run down a loose-on-the-lead Battle Plan and did so under a tenacious rally.

Battle Plan was retired after the Stephen Foster with a soft-tissue injury.

* General Quarters became a Grade 1 winner on turf when he won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in the race before the Derby and later ran third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on dirt. Winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass last spring on Polytrack, he is one of the most versatile horses in training.

* Continuing a trend seen throughout the country this year, the juveniles unveiled at Churchill this spring were slow. Most straight maiden winners ran Beyers in the 60s or 70s. Only two ran Beyers in the 80s: Changing the Rules, who earned an 88, and Razmataz, who earned an 84.

Even the stakes were slow. The Grade 3 Kentucky Juvenile was won by Lou Brissie with a 74 Beyer, and Just Louise won the Debutante with a 69.

* Facing competition for horses from Indiana Downs, Churchill Downs racing secretary Ben Huffman and his staff fulfilled the demanding job of filling the races at Churchill, even if the quality of racing was down from past years. He adjusted the races carded, and heading into this week of racing, the track was averaging 7.6 starters per race, down slightly from last year's meet-ending spring figure of 7.85.

* Friday night racing again proved successful, averaging about 25,000 per night for the first three of four programs. More important, it brought out a younger, more vibrant crowd to the racetrack for racing, drinks, and live music. Now if Churchill could only change the tunes it plays on the PA system between races on the other days of the week. One of its current staples, Bette Midler's "The Wind Beneath My Wings," makes one feel like bridge jumping, even without losing a big show ticket.


Greta Kuntzweiler returned to race-riding for the first time since November 2006. Depression and drug-related offenses had sidelined her for much of that time.

Kuntzweiler went winless with five mounts over the week but came close to winning her first day back, when she finished second aboard Broken Dreams in the eighth race Thursday.

Here Comes Ben won his third straight race this year by winning the Kelly's Landing overnight stakes over a game Hamazing Destiny. His time was quick, too -- seven furlongs in 1:21.89.

Here Comes Ben is fond of the Churchill strip, and with the Breeders' Cup at Churchill this fall, a race like the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile could suit him in distance and company.

The six-furlong distance of the Grade 3 Debutante on Saturday seemed to take its toll on many of the competitors, including the winner, Just Louise, and Salty Strike, who finished third. Neither Just Louise nor Salty Strike had raced at that distance before and were noticeably tired in the final furlong.

Just Louise held on for a narrow victory over longshot Tristanme, despite getting her final furlong in over 14 seconds. Just Louise's winning time was a slow 1:11.85.


Two stakes are on tap for Saturday: the Grade 3 Bashford Manor for 2-year-olds and the Grade 3 Locust Grove for older fillies and mares on the grass. Then Sunday's closing-day feature will be the Grade 2 Firecracker at a mile on the turf. Inca King and Wise River are probable starters in the Firecracker.

The Locust Grove is shaping up well, with Acoma the headliner in a race that could also draw Keertana, Danzon, Happiness Is, and My Baby Baby.

After the Firecracker on Sunday, racing in Kentucky makes its traditional shift to Ellis Park in Henderson. That meet is followed by September meets at Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs before racing moves to Lexington for the prestigious fall meet at Keeneland.

Racing resumes at Churchill on Oct. 31 for its fall meet, which this year and next will be highlighted by the Breeders' Cup.


Alpha Tammy

Trainer: Gary Gray

Last race: June 24, 5th

Finish: 2nd by 5

Racing in a $5,000 claimer, this mare caught a quick one in One That Got Away and could not keep up. She nevertheless outperformed the others in the field, finishing well clear of the rest of the pack. She fits right back against nickel stock.

Peach Bottom

Trainer: Wayne Catalano

Last race: June 25, 7th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

An Illinois-bred, this filly was claimed from an $8,000 race by dominant Chicago trainer Wayne Catalano -- who no doubt has his sights set on statebred company for her at Arlington. Catalano is highly effective off the claim, particularly in his own backyard.

Why Pretend

Trainer: Angel Hyland

Last race: June 26, 5th

Finish: 3rd by 2

Debuting against a deep field of 2-year-old maidens, he managed a third-place finish despite losing two lengths at the start with a slow break. He also was five wide around the turn, largely the result of an unfavorable draw and his slow start.

Dos Lunas

Trainer: John Glenney

Last race: June 27, 1st

Finish: 1st by 6

Debuting in a five-furlong dash for juveniles on the turf, this one whipped the opposition, drawing off to an easy win over Mr. Tribute, the only horse in the race with experience. As well as he handled turf, he should take to a synthetic track - important to note as his trainer, John Glenney, races over Del Mar's Polytrack surface in the summer.