07/02/2004 11:00PM

Difficulty level rises for Lunarpal


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - beat four rivals in winning the Three Chimneys Juvenile and just three in his Kentucky Breeders' Cup triumph. The field won't be much bigger when Lunarpal runs Monday in the $150,000 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs, but the quality of his six opponents seems noticeably improved, meaning Lunarpal could be in for the most demanding test of his nascent career.

"I hope so," said trainer Dale Romans, who will dispatch Smoke Warning and Maximus C to try to prevent Lunarpal from sweeping all three of Churchill Downs spring stakes for 2-year-olds. "Maybe Lunarpal has already had his day, I don't know."

Romans said his two Bashford Manor starters have different strengths, but "both are talented and coming into the race the right way." Smoke Warning, third in the Kentucky BC, is developing a solid off-the-pace run, while Maximus C, having won a 4 1/2-furlong dash in his only start, seems likely to show speed in his return.

Lunarpal would become the second 2-year-old, along with Favorite Trick in 1997, to complete a sweep of Churchill's three spring stakes for 2-year-olds. He drew post 3 in the 103rd running of the Grade 3 Bashford Manor, which helps to close a 53-day meet.

Lunarpal's trainer, Steve Asmussen, sent out the heavy favorites in the Bashford Manor the last two years, but both Posse (2002) and Cuvee (2003) were upset victims. Asmussen, who is part of a fierce three-way battle with Romans and Tom Amoss for the meet's training title, clearly would like to erase those disappointments by watching his latest juvenile star scoot to his fourth straight victory. "He's done everything we've asked of him so far," said Asmussen. "He's been doing very well since his last race."

Besides Lunarpal and the Romans pair, the field for the six-furlong Bashford Manor also includes Storm Surge, an Overbrook Farm homebred who won his only start in impressive fashion for trainer Dallas Stewart; Raise Ole Glory, who earned a race-high Beyer Speed Figure of 87 winning a maiden race here last month for Pat Day and D. Wayne Lukas; and the Bob Holthus-trained pair of Proper Carson and Copy My Notes, both entered off encouraging maiden wins.

The Bashford Manor is carded as the 10th of 11 races on a Monday card that also includes four allowances (races 1, 2, 4, 9). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

Live action on the Kentucky circuit shifts Wednesday to Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.