07/02/2001 11:00PM

Conditions just right for Coup

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - People accustomed to reading the fine print should hold an advantage handicapping the featured ninth race at Churchill Downs on Thursday.

The key to the $55,900 allowance lies in the race conditions, easily overlooked right above the race's past performances. The five-furlong grass race is restricted to horses who "have not won $18,600 twice on the turf other than maiden, claiming or starter."

Coup, a winner of three allowances at Ellis Park, appears ineligible. But a close examination of his winnings from those allowance victories - no longer displayed in the past performances - indicates he squeaked by with earnings just below the $18,600 cutoff.

So Coup finds himself with a rare opportunity - the chance to race his favorite distance, five furlongs on grass, against a field of opponents who have accomplished little on turf.

He wasn't so fortunate in his only other start this year. Racing in a stronger money allowance June 7, Coup produced a top effort off a lengthy layoff. He rallied from last to finish second, beaten a 1 1/4 lengths by Final Row - a winner of five of his last 15 races.

Final Row was entered in the $55,000 Independence Day Handicap at Mountaineer on Tuesday.

Coup, meanwhile, finds himself with a strong chance to end a winless streak that dates to August 1999. Trainer Ricky Short has named Pat Johnson to ride.

Although Coup will be difficult to stop on grass, the complexion of the race would change entirely if inclement weather forces the race to the main track.

Fantastic Finish and Sold to Wallstreet are stakes-quality sprinters on dirt, and have the speed to be dominant. Fantastic Finish ran third in the Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs in 2000.

Leelanau sidelined

Leelanau, withdrawn from Sunday's Grade 2 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill, has been diagnosed with a tendon injury to his right front leg, trainer Steve Morguelan said.

Leelanau, a 2-year-old son of Carson City, is unbeaten in two starts. Last month he won the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.

"There are no fibers that are broken and no holes in the ultrasound," said Morguelan. "I guess it's the best report we could get."

Leelanau is not expected to return to the races until fall at the earliest, Morguelan said.