10/28/2003 1:00AM

Eugene's Third Son back in sprint


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The eighth race at Churchill Downs, a $48,800 nonwinners-of-three allowance, is not the richest race on Thursday, nor is it the deepest. It is simply the classiest, featuring a graded-stakes winner and another with exciting potential.

The seven-furlong sprint drew a field of eight, including Crowned Dancer, the 2002 Hollywood Juvenile Championship winner, and Eugene's Third Son, the runner-up in this year's Arkansas Derby and Lane's End Spiral.

Even though Eugene's Third Son has not run since April, the race runs through him. A winner of 2 of 5 starts, he comes off a second-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Breaking from the far outside post that afternoon, jockey Shane Sellers was forced to use his mount's speed to offset a poor draw. But the pace turned unexpectedly fast, and Eugene's Third Son grew weary in the stretch and was caught late by longshot Sir Cherokee.

That race could have vaulted Eugene's Third Son into the Kentucky Derby, but a fractured splint bone was discovered, and he was rested instead. Trainer Pat Byrne hopes to develop him into a high-class miler now that he has healed.

Byrne said he ran Eugene's Third Son in the Spiral and Arkansas Derby in part to capitalize on the rich stakes preps for 3-year-olds leading up to the Kentucky Derby. But everything about Eugene's Third Son's pedigree - he is a son of Indian Charlie out of an Afleet mare - suggested to Byrne that his strength would ultimately come in shorter races.

He has a win and a second in two prior sprints. The victory came at Churchill last fall, and the second was at Gulfstream Park in January in a loss to Cajun Beat, winner of Saturday's Breeders' Cup Sprint.

At issue Thursday is not class or ability, but fitness. Eugene's Third Son enters his comeback race with three published works, and Byrne insists he will be ready. He said the colt worked brilliantly when breezing a half-mile in 46.80 seconds on Oct. 17, and said that last time, when he was clocked with a five-furlong move in 1:02.80, he actually worked six furlongs in 1:15.

"I had him galloping out seven-eighths in 1:27," Byrne said. "He's plenty fit for allowance horses."

Despite winning the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship last year as a 2-year-old, Crowned Dancer will be at best third or fourth choice. He has gone winless in 2003 and comes off a pair of double-digit-length losses.

Draw Fire and Grin and Frown, two quality allowance horses, head the rest of the opposition.