01/20/2006 12:00AM

Englishmen eye Turfway-Derby path


FLORENCE, Ky. - Unless you count the name of one of the traditional prep races, the WEBN Frog Stakes, there rarely is anything exotic about the Kentucky Derby trail during the long winter at Turfway Park.

But something out of the ordinary might well occur at Turfway within the next couple of months: The connections of a Derby hopeful from England are taking a long look at whether to use Turfway as a path to Churchill Downs.

John Fretwell and Eoghan O'Neill, the respective owner and trainer of Silent Times, traveled all the way from England on the weekend of Jan. 7 to inspect Turfway and its new Polytrack surface. O'Neill wrote last week in an e-mail that he probably is more inclined to use European prep races for Silent Times but that he is "considering lots of options, and one of them is a campaign in the U.S."

Silent Times has won 2 of 3 career starts. He won his career debut at York in July, then finished third of five starters in the Group 2 Futurity at The Curragh. He ended his 2-year-old season by dead-heating for first on Sept. 9 in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster. Jamie Spencer rode him in the Champagne.

Silent Times was sired by Danehill Dancer, a son of the late pre-eminent dual-hemisphere sire Danehill. O'Neill trains the colt at Averham Park, a training yard that, like Turfway, uses Polytrack. Silent Times was rated at 113 pounds, 11 below topweighted George Washington, among European 2-year-olds in the 2005 World Thoroughbred Racehorse rankings.

The three notable races for 3-year-olds at Turfway this winter are the one-mile WEBN Frog on Feb. 4, the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial on March 4, and the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End Stakes on March 25.

Purses get a boost

Turfway has increased overnight purses by 5 percent, effective Thursday. The track's president, Bob Elliston, said the increase is attributable to an increase in handle, primarily from out-of-state sources.

"We are pleased that handicappers are investing their time and money in our product," Elliston said, citing Polytrack and the influx of horsemen who otherwise might have been at Fair Grounds as factors in the upsurge.

The increase affects only the contributions by Turfway to purses, and not the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. The difference is significant, since more than half of the purse in a maiden special weight or allowance race is made up by KTDF funds.

This means that maiden special races, previously worth a maximum of $23,000, now go for $23,500. The development fund contributes $13,000 to a maiden race, while the track's contribution goes up 5 percent from $10,000 to $10,500.

Daly stable holding its own

Nothing will ever make up for the loss that the Daly family suffered last month when trainer Pat Daly, 43, died of complications from a brain aneurysm. But as a small measure of consolation, Daly's widow, Lori, has had two winners from her first three Turfway starters since assuming control of the stable: Clever Selection won Jan. 6, returning $6.40, and Ravencliff won Jan. 12, paying $85.40.

Lori Daly, who has been in and out of racing for nearly 20 years, has a handful of horses at Louisville Trackside. She and her late husband, a lifelong Louisville resident, adopted their infant son, John, less than a year ago.

Lumpkins to stay through spring

Jason Lumpkins, who was easily the leading rider at the 2003 winter-spring meet at Turfway, is back to stay, at least for a while.

"I'm committed to riding in Kentucky through the Churchill spring meet," said Lumpkins.

Now in his 18th year of riding, Lumpkins, 36, has been a nomad of epic proportions, having ridden on virtually every major circuit, most notably in northern California and on the Eastern seaboard. Going into the Friday card, he was tied for second in the Turfway standings.

Brass Hat going to Donn

Trainer William "Buff" Bradley confirmed last week that Brass Hat, winner of the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in his last start, will race next in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. Willie Martinez will have the mount again in the Donn.

"I guess we've got to beat Magna Graduate and Suave, but after that I don't really know much about the race," said Bradley. "We're going down there to take our best shot."

Sharp-looking debut

Trainer Greg Foley let loose a promising 3-year-old filly Wednesday night when Bourbonette earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 79 in defeating a solid field of maiden special weight rivals in a 5 1/2-furlong race. Bourbonette is by Honour and Glory out of Call Her, which makes her a full sister to Battle Won, a graded winner and earner of more than $550,000.

Bourbonette is owned by the Lloyd Madison Farms syndicate that made a name for itself as the owners of Champali, a multiple graded winner. Bourbonette will be pointed to - what else? - the Bourbonette Stakes on the Lane's End undercard.

Churchill policy out to raise interest

The newly announced Churchill policy of paying 1 percent of the purse to horses that finish sixth or worse in stakes "certainly seems worth trying," said Churchill's racing secretary, Doug Bredar.

"The possibility of recouping nomination and starting fees could provide a sufficient incentive to convince some horsemen who are on the fence to take a chance with their horse," said Bredar. "In many cases, the addition of just a horse or two to any stakes field can transform a modestly interesting race into a compelling contest for both fans and horsemen."

Except for the Kentucky Derby, every stakes at the Churchill spring meet (April 29 to July 16) will be subject to the new policy. Also-rans (lower than fifth) will get 1 percent of the gross purse, including added money. The balance then will be distributed in the customary manner of 62 percent to the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth, and 3 for fifth.

Future Wager time is near

It's almost that time again. Pool 1 for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks future wagers open a four-day run Thursday at racetracks and wagering outlets.

For both races, Churchill offers 23 separate wagering interests and a 24th, the mutuel field, that invariably draws major action during the first of three pools.

Derby futures have been offered annually since 1999. Pool 2 is set for March 2-5, and Pool 3 for April 6-9. The 132nd Derby will be run May 6.