06/26/2008 11:00PM

Einstein back to turf in Firecracker


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Einstein is expected to return to familiar turf Friday when he preps for the Aug. 9 Arlington Million in the $200,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Helen Pitts acknowledged that the one-mile distance of the Grade 2 Firecracker "isn't the best" for Einstein, "but I want to get a race in him and point for the big one."

Einstein, an earner of nearly $1.3 million in 19 career starts, most recently raced on dirt when finishing second behind Curlin in the June 14 Stephen Foster Handicap. In his previous race, Einstein won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Churchill turf.

Churchill officials are looking for a medium-sized field for the Firecracker, the first of three graded stakes that help close out the 52-day spring meet. The Grade 3 Bashford Manor will be run Saturday, and the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap is set for closing day, July 6.

Distribution of Ellis signal in doubt

The 36-day Ellis Park meet will begin Friday in Henderson, Ky., amid a high degree of uncertainty and turmoil. Ron Geary, the Louisville businessman who purchased the track from Churchill in September 2006, said this week that he has not yet received permission from Kentucky horsemen's groups to distribute the simulcast signal. The dispute essentially is a carryover of what has dogged the spring meet at Churchill, where a stalemate between horsemen and management over revenue sharing from simulcasting and advance-deposit wagering has existed since April 26.

Moreover, Geary is involved in a nasty fight with the union that long has represented the track's mutuel clerks. The union claims Geary has terminated its contract with them after 43 years, cutting all benefits and their pay by as much as 40 percent. Geary has said he lost about $2 million operating Ellis last year.

For the first three days of the meet, July 4-6, Ellis will overlap with Churchill.

Curlin to work on Churchill turf

Weather permitting, Curlin is scheduled to have his first turf workout Tuesday at Churchill. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who was in Texas for part of last week, is scheduled to be on hand.

The turf course usually opens at about 9:30 a.m. for works. Asmussen said he is looking for an easy once-around breeze, in company, over the seven-furlong course.

Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year who has earned more than $9.3 million and has won his last five races, is tentatively scheduled to make his career turf debut July 12 in either the Man o' War at Belmont or the Arlington Handicap.

Trio shipping to Hollywood for stakes

A small contingent of Churchill horses will ship Monday for stakes engagements next weekend at Hollywood Park. Pure Clan and My Baby Baby are headed for the July 5 American Oaks, while Elite Squadron will run the same day in the Triple Bend Handicap.

Pure Clan, who ran her turf record to 3 for 3 in winning the Regret Stakes here June 14, sharpened Thursday for the Grade 1 American Oaks when breezing an easy five furlongs in 1:03.40 over a firm Churchill turf.

Quota impresses in return from layoff

Quota, an impressive three-length winner under leading jockey Robby Albarado in the Thursday feature at Churchill, will make her next start at Saratoga, probably in a third-level allowance or a restricted stakes, trainer Al Stall Jr. said.

Quota, bred and owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm, was making her first start in more than eight months.

"Robby really said some good things about her," Stall said.

Stall, with stakes horses such as Lattice, My Pal Charlie, and Ketchikan in his stable, said he is "really looking forward to Saratoga," which begins July 23.

Sunday feature figures wide open

The Sunday feature at Churchill appears extremely well-matched, with no clear-cut favorite or easy toss among a field of seven older horses. That's a good thing, considering the race will be a central focus for the finalists in the meet-long handicapping contest, which will produce berths for the National Handicapping Championship next January in Las Vegas.

Asmussen, with the uncoupled duo of Visible Truth and First Degree, is a major player in the seven-furlong feature, which carries a $45,200 purse and is governed by a second-level allowance condition. The other starters, all contenders, in the ninth of 10 races are Badger Barry, Crimson Comic, Sale Pending, Manager Boire, and Mutadda.

After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for two days before the meet's final five-day stretch begins Wednesday.

Track to host 'American Idol' auditions

Having already staged concerts by the Rolling Stones in September 2006 and The Police in July 2007, Churchill once again will host a major music event this year: the hugely popular "American Idol" television show will have auditions at Churchill in early September, it was announced Thursday. "American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell will be on hand for the auditions at Churchill.

Tryouts also will be held in Freedom Hall in Louisville in front of the show's producers on July 21. With as many as 30 million viewers per episode, "American Idol" is the most-watched TV program in the country.

Springer back in the saddle

Jockey Jordan Springer, out with a back injury since a training mishap last November, is back in time for the Ellis meet. Springer was named on three mounts Friday at Churchill and one on Saturday.

Springer, 30, was the top female rider at the 2005 spring and fall meets at Churchill.

* Stall applications for the Turfway Park fall meet are being distributed and are due July 12. The meet runs Sept. 3 to Oct. 2.