05/20/2010 11:00PM

El Crespo looks for old form


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After El Crespo ran 10th in the 2009 Lexington Stakes over the Polytrack at Keeneland, trainer Rusty Arnold made this quick pronouncement: "I don't think he'll run over anything but turf ever again."

El Crespo was coming off a victory in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes five weeks beforehand, and by running him in the Lexington, Arnold acknowledged he was just taking a shot at something a little different. Since then, the 55-year-old trainer has stuck to his word by running El Crespo, now 4, in nine straight grass races.

Problem is, El Crespo has gone winless during those 13 months that have elapsed, although he does have runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup and Grade 3 Saranac to his credit. But even though Arnold went back to basics this year by running the A.P. Indy colt in second-level allowances, victory has been elusive.

On Sunday, El Crespo might finally knock out that condition at Churchill Downs when he goes postward with Calvin Borel aboard as a prime contender in the featured eighth race, which carries a $52,500 purse at 1 1/8 miles on turf. El Crespo finished a hard-closing second in this same kind of race here during Kentucky Derby week.

"I thought his race at Churchill was a step back in the right direction," Arnold said. "Since then, he's come back and breezed very well, so we're very optimistic he's going to run well Sunday. We haven't quite gotten him back to his good 3-year-old form, but it's early yet in the year, and I really think we're going to see him turn the corner."

Seven other 3-year-olds and up were entered against El Crespo, with Skipadate, Au Moon, and Whirling Thunder also likely to take their fair share of action. Au Moon and Whirling Thunder are the only ones in the field to have won over the local course.

One other allowance (race 9) is carded Sunday. It's a $50,000, first-level sprint in which Kajiwara, Good Lord, and Safe Trip will be the favorites in a field of nine 3-year-olds as all have recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or higher in recent starts.

After Sunday, Churchill goes dark for three days before live action resumes Thursday.