11/09/2011 1:20PM

Churchill: Won Great Damsel among contenders in wide-open sprint for females


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – This being 11-11-11, there is no 11 in the 11th for hunch bettors to rely on Friday at Churchill Downs. Fundamental handicapping, mixed in with old-fashioned racing luck, will have to suffice for players intent on getting a profitable head start on their weekend, and there seems to be plenty of good opportunities.

A 10-race card co-features two allowances (races 4 and 9), with the earlier race being the richer one with the smaller field. It’s a $52,000, third-level sprint for fillies and mares, with no clear-cut favorite among a solid group that figures to have wagering spread among Won Great Damsel, Fortune Play, The Underling, and Speedacious as the top choices in a field of eight.

Won Great Damsel represents the owner-trainer team of Billy Hays and Joe Woodard, whose dominance of the Ohio circuit occasionally spills over to their home state of Kentucky. Won Great Damsel, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly, has never run a bad race while winning 4 times in 7 starts, including a 3 1/2-length romp here in the spring, and she is one of the more promising performers owned by Hays, whose stable name includes his wife Donna and son Justin. The Hayses are the second-leading owner in North America this year with 240 wins through Tuesday.

“All along we thought she was maybe a $25,000 to-$30,000 claimer, but she’s stepped up to the plate every time we’ve tried her, and hopefully she can do the same against these nice fillies,” said Woodard.

Fortune Play, entered for an $80,000 claiming option, has proven particularly adept over the Churchill main track, with 3 wins and 7 in-money finishes from 9 starts here. Johnnie Booker is the trainer of Fortune Play, who enters off a sharp runner-up finish in a similar spot Oct. 23 at Keeneland.

The Underling clearly went awry in her last start at Saratoga, but her steady work pattern for Rusty Arnold suggest she is ready for the type of effort that carried her to a four-length triumph here in the spring.

Speedacious is the leading earner in the field with a $314,310 bankroll, although Bret Calhoun said that her task won’t be easy when returning from a 15-week layoff. Calhoun has targeted the Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds on Dec. 10 as his main year-end goal for the Louisiana-bred filly.

“Off a freshening, and against the kind she’ll face Friday, I don’t know,” Calhoun said from New Orleans. “Our main objective is to get her ready for the race here.”

The later Friday allowance is a $48,000, first-level turf sprint that drew an oversubscribed field of 13, with perhaps Ballyclough, a maiden winner over the Saratoga turf this past summer, as the one to beat with Julien Leparoux aboard. Only as many as 10 can start, assuming the race stays on the grass.

First post Friday is 12:40 p.m. Eastern. Next Friday, Nov. 18, will be the lone “Downs After Dark” program of the meet, with post set for 4:30 p.m.