11/25/2008 1:00AM

Dominican taking shot at Clark


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Dominican grabbed for the brass ring once before here, only to miss badly. More than 18 months after his 11th-place finish in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, Dominican will try to etch his name onto a less-glamorous page of the Churchill Downs record book when he runs Friday in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

Dominican is one of eight older horses in the $400,000 Clark, the annual fall-meet highlight at Churchill. Commentator, the 124-pound highweight, figures to be sent away a short price in the 134th running of the 1 1/8-mile race, with the secondary favorites being Einstein and Magna Graduate.

Dominican will be one of the longshots. Easily the biggest win in his 16-race career came when he won a four-horse photo in the 2007 Blue Grass Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland, but trainer Darrin Miller has struggled to get the gelding to revert to that peak form in nine subsequent races.

"We have taken our time with him this year," said Miller, who trains Dominican for the Silverton Hill Farm of Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton. "He bled severely in the West Virginia Derby last year, and what I have done this year is have him come out of his races in good order and continue to progress."

Since finishing 17 3/4 lengths behind Street Sense in the 133rd Derby three weeks after his Blue Grass upset, Dominican has just one win, having captured an allowance race at Presque Isle Downs nearly four months ago.

Commentator, with John Velazquez up for trainer Nick Zito, was assigned post 4 in a field that will assemble this way: Delightful Kiss, Magna Graduate, Einstein, Commentator, Anak Nakal, Timber Reserve, Wayzata Bay, and Dominican.

The Clark is one of four Grade 2 races that close out the 26-day fall meet. The Falls City goes Thursday, while twin 2-year-old stakes, the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod, are the closing-day features Saturday.

A working holiday

Some Thanksgiving traditions change over time. For trainer Ian Wilkes and his wife, Tracey, the day invariably includes racing at Churchill, and in previous years, they and their teenage children, Shelby and Brodie, have entertained guests afterward at their Louisville home, where Ian deep-fries a turkey.

This year, however, might be different.

"We've got a lot going on," said Wilkes.

Tracey works long hours in the guest-services department at Churchill after her morning job as an exercise rider, while Ian is busy with a large stable that includes Tiz to Dream and Miss Isella, a pair of fringe contenders in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap.

Miss Isella "is just getting better and better, I think," said Wilkes. As for Tiz to Dream, "we're looking to find out whether she belongs with that kind."

Betting menu shuffled

With 12 races carded for each of the last three days of the meet, Churchill will implement a couple of notable changes in the wagering menu.

The Z-5, a $1-minimum Super High Five, will now be offered on the fifth race at Churchill, the 10th at Calder, and the 12th at Churchill. On previous days, the Z-5 had been used on the third at Churchill, the sixth at Calder, and the 10th at Churchill.

Also, Churchill will offer three pick-four wagers instead of the usual two, on races 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12.

First post Thursday through Saturday is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Turf race packed with entries

The Kentucky Derby is the only Thoroughbred race in North America with as many as 20 starters, but that didn't stop Churchill from carding a race with 19 horses Sunday.

Twelve is the maximum for any race here, but for some turf races, Churchill has a policy of using as many as four also-eligibles and as many as four more designated as "main track only."

"Obviously if the race is rained off the turf, you don't want it to scratch down to nothing," said Churchill's general manager, Jim Gates. "In rare cases, you could have as many as 20 horses on the program."

The Sunday race in question, the seventh, wound up with 12 starters after seven scratches.

Twin Spires Club staging tournament

For Churchill fans, the opportunity has passed to make the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas by taking the local route. Todd Stark of Hazard, Ky., and Rudy Hardin Jr. of Louisville finished first and second in the finals of the Churchill handicapping contest Sunday, earning berths to the Jan. 23-24 national finals and earning $1,400 and $800, respectively.

But a much bigger contest is being sponsored by the Churchill-owned Twin Spires Club on Saturday, closing day of the meet. An online contest being billed as "The Biggest Vegas Qualifier Ever" will offer 15 berths into the January finals, as well as five more to the Horseplayer World Series.

The entry fee is $250 per person. More information is available at .

New client for Miller

Richard Monterrey recently joined the Churchill jockey colony with the intention of moving on to the long Turfway Park meet that begins Sunday. Monterrey, a 24-year-old native of Venezuela, most recently rode regularly at Hawthorne after moving over from Prairie Meadows. His book will be handled by Terry Miller.

Miller had been working for Julio Garcia, the 48-year-old veteran who has had a terrific Churchill meet. Garcia is returning to Calder.

Aid sought for fire losses

With the giving season in full gear, the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is seeking donations on behalf of members who suffered horrific losses last week when a fire swept through the Riverside Downs training center, killing 29 horses. At least six trainers lost one or more horses.

The fire at Riverside, located just a few miles from Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., was the fourth in five years. Local fire officials have said no foul play is suspected.

Donations can be made by calling the horsemen's association at (502) 363-1077 or Ellis Park at (800) 333-8110.