11/12/2003 1:00AM

Dirt stakes winners, turf unknowns

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At a mile on the main track, a matchup among stakes winners Champali, Hero's Tribute, and Twilight Road would be interesting indeed.

But at a mile on the turf, it's not only interesting, it's confusing. The allowance conditions of the Friday feature at Churchill Downs call for horses that have not won a race "other than" on grass this year, luring a handful of horses who have excelled on dirt but are veritable unknowns on grass.

Not a lot of horses have had a much better year on dirt than 3-year-old Champali, who will face older rivals for the first time when he makes his turf debut in the ninth of 10 Friday races, a $64,600 allowance that also is open to $100,000 claimers.

"We're taking a shot at the grass this one time, then looking to put him away for the winter," said Greg Foley, who has trained Champali to earn over $300,000 this year for Lloyd Madison Farms.

Champali, with Craig Perret to ride, has been assigned post 10 in a field filled with plenty of other question marks. Like Champali, two of the more accomplished horses in the race, Hero's Tribute and Twilight Road, also will be making their first starts on grass after compiling outstanding records on dirt.

Hero's Tribute, owned by John Oxley, has not raced since being badly beaten in the Grade 1 Suburban in July. Trained by John T. Ward Jr., the 5-year-old horse has been training smartly in recent weeks at Keeneland, and as he is a graded winner of over $830,000, it would not be a surprise to see him triumph in his comeback. He breaks from post 8 under Pat Day.

Twilight Road, owned by Donamire Farm, has earned over $420,000 in a yeomanlike career, and his grind-it-out style makes him an interesting first-time turf runner. Jon Court will break from post 4 aboard the 6-year-old gelding.

A field of 13 was entered, although no more than 10 can start. Of the others, Classic Par, a seasoned turf performer, may rate the best chance.

Although downpours were frequent here Wednesday, when temperatures reached 70, the Louisville forecast through the rest of the week called for clearing skies and considerably cooler conditions. If that forecast holds true, turf races for Friday most likely will stay put.

Besides the feature, one other allowance (race 8) and two high-priced claiming events (races 4 and 7) also will be run Friday.