07/05/2005 12:00AM

Expect to see lots of full fields


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Racing secretary Doug Bredar theorizes that entries at Churchill Downs have been filling so well toward the end of the spring meet "because horsemen realize they're not going to have the opportunity to run for this kind of money much longer."

Indeed, with the purse structure at Churchill being superior to that of its sister track, Ellis Park, where a summer meet begins July 13, full fields should be prevalent during the four-day span that closes out the meet. That clearly is the case Thursday, the first day of that span, when overflow fields are the norm on the 10-race card.

Filling entries had been something of a struggle at this meet, as field size averaged barely more than 8.0, down from 8.5 at the 2004 spring meet. Fields at the 2003 spring meet averaged nearly 8.9.

The reasons for the decline are varied and somewhat complicated, but closing week should help to partly offset that negative trend. Each of the last six races Thursday is carded with at least one also-eligible, so numbers, at least for this week, should not be a problem.

It just so happens that the last six races also make up the pick six, which sports a carryover of $50,355 into Thursday. As usual, following a two-day respite, horseplayers will be ready to fire at that kind of prize, so the pick six should be worth at least $150,000 after all bets are taken before the fifth race.

Before the pick six comes the nominal feature, a $52,000 allowance sprint, which goes as the fourth race. Although just seven fillies are entered, this is the race with the most quality Thursday. Any of a few seem to have the potential to advance to stakes competition in short order.

Of those, might be best. Trained by Tom Proctor, whose stable has been particularly strong in the last several months, Forever Brilliant is entered off a narrow defeat in a $145,000 stakes at Lone Star Park in late May. With Gary Stevens to ride, Forever Brilliant should be plenty tough to beat with another top effort.

Another primary contender is , whose jockey-trainer team, Rafael Bejarano and Eddie Kenneally, is winning at a 38-percent clip together.

The finals of the weekly handicapping contest - with berths in the National Handicapping Finals next January at stake - will be held Thursday on races 3 through 8. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.