06/30/2006 11:00PM

Comebackers at crossroads in allowance

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rare is the Churchill Downs stakes race with as many as three horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. But a mere allowance race with three former Derby horses? That's the truly extraordinary scenario awaiting Churchill horseplayers Monday.

Three of the six entrants in the ninth race, a $66,000 classified allowance, once chased Derby glory. Their Monday encounter will carry only a fraction of the significance, but, at least for two of them, the race nonetheless figures critically in how the balance of their careers unfold.

, fourth in the 2005 running, both are returning from layoffs of varying lengths and with new trainers. Those horses figure as the favorites in a 7 1/2-furlong race that also drew Greater Good, the 13th-place finisher in the 2005 Derby, along with three other older horses.

Buddy Gil, owned by the Desperado Stables, was trained by Jeff Mullins for his first 18 starts, with the most recent coming 21 months ago in a Santa Anita turf allowance. In the long span since then, Buddy Gil has undergone three operations on his right knee, but Kenny McCarthy, the local assistant to the gelding's new trainer, Bill Mott, says so far, so good.

"Knock wood, but he seems to be holding up great," said McCarthy. "He's hit all his works, and although Bill said it would be ideal to maybe have another work or two in him, this race was in the [condition] book, and he thought we could just go ahead and start him back right here."

Don't Get Mad, owned by B. Wayne Hughes, was freshened shortly after storming to a three-length triumph in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby last October. The colt has been alternately trained by Paul McGee and his brother-in-law, Ron Ellis, and in April returned to McGee at Churchill, where he has a splashy local record of 4 wins from 5 starts, with the Derby being the lone blemish.

Soon after returning to Churchill, Don't Get Mad had minor throat surgery, and McGee is as eager as anyone to determine how successful the operation was. Judging by the colt's strong workout pattern, Don't Get Mad appears highly eligible to pick up right where he left off last fall.

Besides the three ex-Derby horses, the field also includes the likely pacesetter, Exiting Metro, and Esprit du Roi and Go Now.