10/26/2006 11:00PM

Cohiba Miss in tough either way


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bernie Flint was unsure Friday whether he wanted to make Cohiba Miss leap from the frying pan into the fire, but whatever the case, he knows the competition is hot.

"The last time I saw an easy race was never," said Flint, the veteran trainer who has won more than 3,000 races.

At issue is whether Cohiba Miss, one of 11 2-year-old fillies scheduled to race Sunday at Churchill Downs in the $100,000 Pocahontas Stakes, should be scratched in favor of hoping to make the field for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies next Saturday. Cohiba Miss, who began as No. 16 on the list of pre-entries for a race in which only 14 can start, would need only two defections to move off the also-eligibles list and into the main body of the Juvenile Fillies.

"I guess I'm going to keep her in the Pocahontas unless we hear in time that another horse is out," said Flint. "Either way, we're not going into any easy spot."

Indeed, the Grade 3 Pocahontas, which helps open the Churchill fall meet with its "brother" race, the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes, drew an inordinately tough field that is partly attributable to what might be called a Breeders' Cup spillover factor.

Three other fillies who will be excluded from the list of 24 pre-entered in the Juvenile Fillies - Baroness Thatcher, Mistical Plan, and Pro Pink - also are in the lineup for the one-mile Pocahontas, which goes as the 10th of 11 Sunday races.

They join a cast that looks pretty tough even without them, including stakes winners Lisa M, Change Up, and Littlebitabling.

Change Up, with Garrett Gomez to ride, is trained by Bernie Flint's son Steve. A romping winner of a Mountaineer Park stakes two races back, Change Up also was under consideration for the Breeders' Cup before being soundly beaten as the odds-on choice in the Arlington-Washington Lassie.

Steve Flint said he "couldn't justify" trying to make the Breeders' Cup off that disappointing effort but said the filly has rebounded in her training, as evidenced by a bullet workout here last Sunday.

Pat Day bronze unveiling Sunday

The fall meet opens Sunday at 12:40 p.m. Eastern, but many people will arrive early to witness the unveiling of the life-size bronze statue of Pat Day, the Hall of Fame jockey who retired in August 2005 after two decades of dominance on the Kentucky circuit.

Day and his family will join the statue's sculptor, Raymond Graf, during an unveiling ceremony that begins at noon in the clubhouse garden area near the paddock. The statue depicts Day during one of the defining moments of his remarkable riding career: his arms upraised after his victory aboard Lil E. Tee in the 1992 Kentucky Derby.

In a career dating back to 1973, Day, 53, rode 8,803 winners, fourth-most in North American racing history. He is racing's all-time earnings leader with more than $297 million in purse money, and he is easily the all-time leading rider at Churchill with 2,481 wins and 34 meet riding titles.

Time is now for Romans barn

After breaking his own record at a Churchill spring meet by sending out 43 winners, trainer Dale Romans had a relatively quiet summer and fall. But the 40-year-old Louisville native is hoping to resume his dominance at Churchill, where he has won or tied for two of the last three fall-meet training titles, and eight of the last 13 overall, dating to the 2000 spring meet.

"It was actually a decent summer," said Romans. "I had my best Belmont meet ever and won five races over at Keeneland. But obviously we love to point for the Churchill meets, and I've got a lot of horses ready to go here."

Among the Romans horses expected to race at the meet are Bright One, who is pointing to the Nov. 24 Clark Handicap, and Joint Effort, who will run this week in either the Chilukki or Very Subtle.

Longtime Churchill starter dead at 75

Tom Wagoner, the veteran Churchill starter who died Wednesday night at age 75 in Diana, Texas, following a lengthy illness, was a fixture on starting-gate crews for nearly four decades before retiring in 1997.

Wagoner started his first Kentucky Derby in 1974, the 100th Derby, which drew a record field of 23 starters. His last of 23 Derbies was the 1996 running.

From the Churchill archives, Wagoner once was quoted as saying that despite the huge field for his first Derby, it "was probably the easiest Derby I ever worked."

"I think it was something like two minutes from the first getting in until they were off," he said.

Wagoner was replaced by Roger Nagle in 1997, who in turn was replaced earlier this year by Scott Jordan.

Dark Tuesday, open Sunday

In direct contrast to Derby Week, when racing is held on the Tuesday before the Derby but not the Sunday after, the schedule for Breeders' Cup week is: dark Tuesday, open Sunday.

Until a few years ago, Churchill traditionally raced six days a week during the fall meet, but this year the only Tuesday on which racing will be held is Election Day, Nov. 7.

The Trackside simulcast annex will be open on Breeders' Cup Day only.