10/31/2001 1:00AM

Distaff rises above nice little race

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With necessity being the mother of invention, the Churchill Downs Distaff has developed into a nice little race since its 1986 inception.

Designed partly as an early-meet prep for the Falls City Handicap and partly as a stand-alone race for fillies and mares with a preference for a one-turn mile, the Distaff now is a Grade 2 event, surpassing the more historic Falls City, a 1 1/8-mile race that carries a Grade 3 ranking.

On Saturday, the $200,000 Distaff promises to deliver once again. A deep field is likely, with Trip carrying highweight of 117 pounds against such challengers as Nany's Sweep (116), Caressing (115), Nasty Storm (115), and Rose of Zollern (115). At least 10 are expected.

Rose of Zollern, never a factor in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster Stakes for trainer Bill Mott, is one of a handful of starters eligible to run a huge race.

"I told Bill I had no idea why she never even tried in the Spinster," said regular rider Larry Melancon. "[It] might have been the track or the distance, but that wasn't her. She's better than that."

The Distaff is one of two stakes here Saturday. The other is the $100,000 Pocahontas, a one-mile race expected to draw about eight 2-year-old fillies.

Curious exotics payoffs explained

After Devil's Millhopper won the first race Tuesday at a $4.40 mutuel, the next three winners formed a $1 pick three wager worth $2,981.20.

Meanwhile, the $1 pick four wager, which started with Devil's Millhopper, returned only $1,972.60. Some fans expressed dismay at how anyone could lose $1,000 by playing the pick four instead of the pick three, even though the pick four obviously is the more difficult bet.

The answer lies in the quirks of what often happens with small wagering pools. Only $7,306 was bet in the pick four, meaning just three winning $1 tickets were sold. The pick three pool was $18,404, meaning five winning $1 tickets were sold.

A couple of trainer-jockey doubles

Several trainers and jockeys got off to good starts at the meet by scoring doubles Tuesday.

With older brother Cash in town, trainer Steve Asmussen won with a pair of good-looking 2-year-old fillies, Lake Lady and Academic Angel, both of whom won maiden sprints as heavy favorites. Paul McGee won a pair of allowance races with Lucky Baldwin and Accelerant, and Morris Nicks won two races with Joanie's Jett and Bright Sea.

Donnie Meche rode both of Asmussen's winners while Pat Day rode both of Nicks's winners.

Pat Day bobblehead doll giveaway

Churchill officials are predicting one of the biggest crowds of the meet Saturday, and not just because of the stakes doubleheader.

The other reason is the Pat Day bobblehead doll giveaway. Day is just the third jockey to have a bobblehead doll created in his image, following Chris McCarron and Laffit Pincay Jr. at Hollywood Park earlier this year. The giveaway, which has been guaranteed for the first 10,000 paid admissions, has created quite a local publicity bonanza.

The resurgent popularity of bobbleheads "is a cyclical trend, like in fashion," said Gina Hall, Churchill's promotion and events manager. "In the giveaway arena, we know they were popular years and years ago, and we know they're surfacing again in sports and entertainment."

As for the Saturday giveaway, the admiration of Day in the Louisville market, Hall said, "clearly will be one of our main reasons for success."

* The Sunday feature, the $100,000 Iroquois Stakes, is coming up a fairly tough race, which it normally does. Such promising colts as Ide, Exploit, and Mighty have won the Iroquois in recent years. Prospects for the one-mile race include Gold Dollar, Harlan's Holiday, Holy Run, Janadel, Showmeitall, Trail, and Yoga.

* The ungraded Pocahontas serves as the main prep for the Grade 3 Golden Rod Stakes. The Grade 3 Iroquois is the main prep for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

* The Golden Rod and the KJC, the traditional closing-day features, will be run Nov. 24.