11/21/2007 12:00AM

Cosmonaut back after near-miss in BC

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Cosmonaut doesn't do much dodging. After taking on some of the best middle-distance turf horses in America for much of the year, the hard-trying 5-year-old will be the topweight and solid favorite in the Grade 3 River City Handicap on the Friday undercard at Churchill Downs.

Cosmonaut, owned by the Flying Zee Stable of Carl Lizza, has been remarkably consistent in his seven starts this year, with every Beyer Speed Figure landing in the 100-to-104 range, while he has racked up $615,357 in earnings. His most recent start resulted in a third-place finish in the Oct. 27 BC Mile at Monmouth Park, and his new trainer, Carlos Martin, said the horse exited the race in fine fashion.

"Mr. Lizza was a little concerned about running him back so soon," said Martin, who assumed Cosmonaut's training for the suspended Patrick Biancone shortly after the Breeders' Cup. "He was thinking of maybe calling it a season, but we decided to play it by ear. The horse has been galloping aggressively, his coat is good, and he is doing great."

Cosmonaut, with Edgar Prado to ride, will break from the inside post in a field of 10 entered in the $200,000 River City, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that directly precedes the Clark Handicap as the 10th of 12 Friday races. Besides the BC Mile, Cosmonaut also has finished up close in the Dixie (second), Manhattan (fourth), and Shadwell Mile (second). Still, he hasn't forgotten how to win, having captured a Keeneland allowance and the Arlington Handicap during his demanding 2007 campaign.

Maybe the toughest rivals for Cosmonaut, who will carry 122 pounds while spotting his rivals four to 11 pounds, will be Ascertain, a winner of his last three starts, and Big Prairie, who was second at 22-1 when Cosmonaut was fifth as the favorite in the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga in August.

Wicked Style brings stakes class

Wicked Style will try to rebound off a 41-length defeat in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he takes on seven other 2-year-olds Saturday in the $250,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

As the winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity last month at Keeneland, Wicked Style is the only stakes winner in the Grade 2 KJC, a 1 1/16-mile race that highlights a 12-race closing-day program. All Saturday races are restricted to 2-year-olds, marking the second "Stars of Tomorrow" card at the meet.

Other major contenders in the KJC include Halo Najib, runner-up to Court Vision in the Iroquois Stakes, and Cool Coal Man, a sharp recent allowance winner. The rest of the field is Anak Nakal, Real Appeal, Racecar Rhapsody, Mythical Pegasus, and Blackberry Road.

The KJC is the co-feature with its Grade 2 sister, the $250,000 Golden Rod, which also drew a field of eight. Pure Clan, the unbeaten winner of the Pocahontas Stakes, looks like a solid favorite with Julien Leparoux to ride. Her main challengers are Sunday Holiday, third in both the Frizette and Tempted, and Turn Away, a flashy winner of her career debut on opening day for trainer Bobby Frankel.

From the rail, the field for the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod is Pure Clan, Greenhaven Lake, Turn Away, C J's Leelee, Sunday Holiday, Morakami, Minewander, and French Kiss.

The Golden Rod is carded as the ninth race, and the KJC is the 11th. First post Saturday is 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Live action on the Kentucky circuit moves Sunday to Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Jockey race a close one as usual

Given the crowd atop the Churchill jockey standings, it would not be a big surprise if the race for leading rider wound up a dead heat for the third straight fall meet.

Two years ago, Mark Guidry and Rafael Bejarano tied with 26 wins for top honors, while Calvin Borel and Shaun Bridgmohan both won 23 races in 2006. And after four races Wednesday, it was another tight one: Borel and Julien Leparoux led with 20 wins each, while four more riders had at least 16.

* Veteran trainer Mark Danner sports a Kansas Jayhawks placard outside his small stable wherever he goes, so with the Kansas football team still unbeaten deep into this 2007 college football season, the sign has been drawing far more attention than usual on the Churchill backstretch.

"We usually only get comments during the basketball season," said Danner.