11/15/2007 1:00AM

Dud on dirt, Criminologist blooms on turf

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Criminologist has improved so much this year that her Hall of Fame trainer can hardly believe it. A major contender in the Cardinal Handicap on Saturday at Churchill Downs, Criminologist seems on the threshold of crashing the elite of North America's filly and mare turf division.

"She's certainly been a pleasant surprise," said Shug McGaughey, who put Criminologist on a Louisville-bound charter flight Thursday in New York.

Until this year, Criminologist, a 4-year-old Maria's Mon filly, basically was treading water, trying in vain to get through her first allowance condition while racing on dirt. But once McGaughey spotted her on turf, Criminologist progressed so rapidly that he now finds himself peeking ahead to the major turf events of 2008. Criminologist, owned by Stuart Janney and the Phipps Stable, has won 5 of 8 turf starts and brings a three-race win streak into the Cardinal, with her latest victory coming by 4 1/2 lengths in the Gradeo3 Athenia at Belmont Park last month.

John Velazquez rode Criminologist in the Athenia, and when McGaughey asked him to ride her back in the Cardinal, "Johnny said right off the bat he did," said McGaughey. "So I think that says a little something about her, too."

Win or lose Saturday, Criminologist soon will head to Florida and be pointed to a 5-year-old campaign.

Coach Jimi Lee heads sprint

Besides the Cardinal, a solid Saturday card also includes two allowances (races 6 and 8) and an overnight handicap, the $65,000 Bet on Sunshine (race 3).

Coach Jimi Lee, the standout Chicago-based gelding with 18 wins from 40 career starts, looks like the horse to beat in a six-furlong race that drew seven older horses. Other logical contenders include Cougar Cat, second to Fabulous Strike in the Aristides here in June, and Santana Strings, a sharp allowance winner last month at Keeneland.

The Bet on Sunshine is named for the consistent sprinter who won 22 races, including 14 stakes, from 1996 to 2001.

Windyindy survives inquiry

The hardest part for Windyindy and jockey Calvin Borel in the Wednesday feature wasn't the actual running of the race - the filly drew off with ease to win the one-mile allowance by 4 1/4 lengths.

No, it was the race aftermath, during a lengthy stewards' inquiry and an objection by apprentice Dylan Williams, the rider of runner-up Indivia, that led to anxious moments. Ultimately, the results were allowed to stand, with the stewards ruling that Windyindy did not interfere with Indivia when she came through a narrow rail opening in midstretch.

The victory was the third of the day for Borel, who going into the Thursday program held a 17-14 lead over Julien Leparoux atop the jockey standings.

* A field of nine fillies and mares, headed by Smitty's Sunshine and Flying Circle, has been entered in the Sunday feature, the $100,000 Mariah's Storm at five furlongs on the turf. From the hedge, this is the field: Marina Ballerina, Smitty's Sunshine, Hot Storm, Taletobetold, Put Away the Halo, Miss Wellspring, Indian Breeze, Cat on a Cloud, and Flying Circle.

* Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux will ride in selected stakes races during the five weeks after Churchill ends next Saturday and before Gulfstream Park begins Jan. 3, said agent Mike Sellitto. After years in California, Desormeaux moved his family to New York and will be based there during that time.