11/10/2017 10:50AM

Conquest Panthera finds some class relief in allowance

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Michael Burns
Conquest Panthera (center) drops from graded stakes company for the first time since January 2017 in Sunday's third-race allowance feature at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The feature race comes early Sunday to Churchill Downs, just as winter came early to Louisville this week. A high of just 40 degrees Friday had the scarves and thermal underwear coming out of mothballs as horsemen and fans got a little more serious about their plans for December and beyond.

Norman Casse, a short-timer now as an assistant to his father, trainer Mark Casse, will be among those headed for Florida when the 21-day Churchill fall meet ends Nov. 26. Having recently revealed his plans to open his own stable early next year, Casse must first attend to more pressing business with runners such as Conquest Panthera, one of the main contenders in the richest event on the 10-race Sunday card.

Owned by movie mogul Gary Barber, Conquest Panthera will make a rare drop from graded stakes company when facing five other older horses in the third race, a $72,000 classified allowance at a mile on turf. Conquest Panthera won the Grade 2 Play the King on the Woodbine turf in August and will be stretching out from the 5 1/2-furlong Woodford last month at Keeneland.

“He’s a very competitive horse that finds some class relief at his ideal distance,” Casse said.

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The strongest competition could come from Bondurant, who also owns considerable stakes experience, or Sir Dudley Digges, the 2016 Queen’s Plate winner. The balance of a terrific field includes Tapitation, Royal Son, and Applicator, all ungraded stakes winners.

First post Sunday is 1 p.m. Eastern. One other allowance, a $62,000, first-level turf sprint for fillies and mares, comes later in the day as race 9.

After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for two days before another five-day week begins Wednesday. The highlight next week is the Grade 3 Cardinal on Saturday (Nov. 18).

KEY CONTENDERS

Conquest Panthera, by Kitten’s Joy
Last 3 Beyers: 86-98-101

◗ The sharpies had him pegged as a major threat (he was the 5-2 second choice) on a radical turnback in the Woodford, but he couldn’t overcome a sluggish start when up late for fourth. He should be much closer to the pace Sunday with that sharpener under him.

Bondurant, by War Front
Last 3 Beyers: 87-88-98

◗ This older half-brother to McCraken was a fast-closing second here last fall in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf and has met some real toughies in the interim. He tends to be a fan favorite.

Sir Dudley Digges, by Gio Ponti
Last 3 Beyers: 90-71-90

◗ This Ontario-bred 4-year-old comes well-drawn in post 1 off a decent runner-up finish at Keeneland while armed with a noteworthy 2-for-3 record over the local turf course.