07/03/2008 11:00PM

Einstein shortens up on turf

Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos
Einstein wins the Woodford Reserve on the Derby undercard, one his two Grade 1 wins this year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If class is the most important factor in handicapping, then distance should be a minor consideration Friday when Einstein is heavily favored against six opponents in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap on the Churchill Downs turf.

Einstein is highweighted with 124 pounds in the $200,000 Firecracker, the 10th of 11 races on the Fourth of July program at Churchill. As the winner of two Grade 1 races already this year, including the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the May 3 Kentucky Derby undercard, Einstein clearly is the class of the field - although the one-mile distance of the Firecracker would seem a tad short for his liking.

"Is a mile his best distance? No," trainer Helen Pitts said. "But he is a pretty versatile horse, and I've trained him knowing he's shortening up Friday. I guess if he's the best horse, then he can win going a mile, although I'm a little nervous about it."

Robby Albarado has the mount back on Einstein after vacating for one race, the June 14 Stephen Foster Handicap, which Albarado won aboard Curlin. Pitts was highly satisfied with the results of the Foster, in large part because the race served as an important stepping-stone for Einstein toward his main summer goal, the Aug. 9 Arlington Million.

The lone win for Pitts from her first 32 starters at the Churchill spring meet was the Woodford Reserve - an anomalous statistic for the 33-year-old trainer, considering her 15 percent career win rate.

"This meet hasn't been too pretty," Pitts said, "although winning the Woodford has been a saving grace. I'd like to wind up the meet with another nice one."

Einstein is wholly owned by Midnight Cry Stables, whose principals, Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, have been awaiting results of their federal trial in Covington, Ky. Pending resolution of the legal proceedings, Einstein is racing in the names of lessees Patricia Cunningham and Melissa Greene, the respective wife and girlfriend of the principals.

Cunningham and Gallion have been on trial on charges of defrauding their clients in the 2002 settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer of the diet-drug combination phen-fen. The jury announced Wednesday morning that it was deadlocked, and the judge ordered them to continue deliberating. No decision had been reached by Wednesday evening.

Einstein, an earner of nearly $1.3 million, has trained very well since the Foster, although Pitts chose not to put the 6-year-old Brazilian-bred horse through a serious drill leading to the Firecracker. Several of his Friday rivals underwent sharp workouts in recent days, including Thorn Song, who breezed a half-mile on the Churchill turf just minutes after Curlin went through his first career turf work Tuesday morning.

Thorn Song, a distinctive-looking roan, "really is doing great," trainer Dale Romans said. "I know Einstein's got to be tough to beat, but my horse likes this course, and he's really trained well."

Thorn Song will be reunited with Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode him to victory last fall in the Grade 3 River City Handicap on the Churchill turf.

Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year for trainer Steve Asmussen, was listed as the 130-pound highweight for the Firecracker but was never a serious consideration to actually be entered. Asmussen has a viable alternate for the Firecracker in Inca King, whose 3-for-3 record on the Churchill turf has been compiled exclusively in stakes: the Jefferson Cup and Commonwealth Turf last year, and the Opening Verse in his most recent start, May 31. Inca King will have Shaun Bridgmohan back aboard Friday.

Thorn Song and Inca King both get six pounds from Einstein when carrying 118.

The rest of the Firecracker field is A.P. Xcellent, 116, Larry Melancon; Faith's Magic, 116, Brian Hernandez Jr.; Portuga, 115, Calvin Borel; and Steve's Double, 115, Miguel Mena.

This is the 18th running of the Firecracker, which was run twice (1983-84) on the main track before being revived in 1993 on the turf. The race has been won by quite a few nationally prominent turf horses in recent years, including Kitten's Joy (2005), Miesque's Approval (2006), and Remarkable News (2007).

The Firecracker anchors what should be a festive holiday at Churchill, although thunderstorms are in the forecast. The infield will be open throughout the day for a variety of activities, including local bands and a classic car show. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.