12/15/2011 5:01PM

Fair Grounds: Bonapaw no easy spot for Country Day


Country Day raced for a seven-figure purse last month at Churchill Downs, finishing second of 14 in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. But seven-figure purses for short grass races come around just about never, and it is back to reality for Country Day on Saturday at Fair Grounds, where he’s scheduled to face eight rivals in the $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes. If Country Day’s class drop matched up with the $925,000 purse drop, he’d be a mortal lock, but Strike Impact, Great Mills, and aging Chamberlain Bridge can make Country Day work for his money.

The Bonapaw is one of four stakes races on the best race card so far this season at Fair Grounds. Race 4 is the $75,000 Tenacious for older route horses, while race 9, the $75,000 Blushing K.D., brings out the talented Ravi’s Song. The 10th, the $60,000 Sugar Bowl, an overnight sprint stakes for 2-year-olds, lured Exfactor, who easily won the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill in his most recent performance. Also on the program is a pair of good-looking 2-year-old maiden sprints, races 6 and 8.

Country Day, a 5-year-old Speightstown horse, has won 6 of 17 career starts, but while obviously capable on turf, has finished first in only one of seven grass races. He has failed to win in four 2011 starts, but ran well enough in three of them to prove a major player in the 5 1/2-furlong Bonapaw.

“We brought him down here and our plan was to run, and he was going to tell us if he was knocked out or anything from the Breeders’ Cup, but he’s come into this race in good shape,” said trainer Steve Margolis.

Country Day has posted morning workouts since the Breeders’ Cup that make him look like a horse holding top form: He worked a bullet half-mile two weeks after the race, and has turned in two near-black-letter works since shipping to Fair Grounds.

The status of Chamberlain Bridge remains more shrouded. A winner in 4 of his 6 Fair Grounds turf starts, Chamberlain Bridge has won only once – that in February – since capturing the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. And while trainer Bret Calhoun can make plausible excuses for Chamberlain Bridge’s two most recent losses, he acknowledges that at age 7, Chamberlain Bridge might not ever get back to his best.

“I think the horse still has a chance to turn it around, because physically he’s the same,” Calhoun said. “I’m not so sure mentally he’s the same horse. In the heat of battle is he going to lay it down like he did before?”

Strike Impact finished second in the Colonel Power last season in his only previous Fair Grounds turf try. He has a chance Saturday as does Great Mills, a three-time course winner.

Blushing K.D.: Breakthrough shot

Ravi’s Song has failed to win any of her three grass races, but her time appears to have come Saturday. Second in a trio of Grade 3 stakes – including one race in which she beat BC Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl – Ravi’s Song takes a decided class drop in the $75,000 Blushing K.D., a 1 1/16-mile grass race.

Ravi’s Song is a capable dirt performer and won the New Orleans Ladies last season at Fair Grounds, but trainer Carl Bowman switched Ravi’s Song to turf earlier this year, and Ravi’s Song moved at least slightly forward. She was second by a neck at Churchill in the Mint Julep, her turf debut, then finished second behind Monmouth-loving Romacaca in the Matchmaker there and was a closing second behind the capable Deluxe last out in the Cardinal, another Churchill race.

“She’s awfully good on dirt, but she might be a little better on turf,” Bowman said. “She’s doing terrific right now.”

Cherokee Queen is the only other horse with graded-stakes credentials in the Blushing K.D., and her best form appears to be behind her. A She’s Adorable, 2-1-0 from three Fair Grounds starts, can complete the exacta behind Ravi’s Song.

Sugar Bowl: Comeback spot

Trainer Bernie Flint is looking forward to stretching Exfactor out to two-turn racing early next year, but the six-furlong Sugar Bowl provides an appealing spot for Exfactor to make his first start since July 2.

Exfactor, a son of Exchange Rate, hasn’t raced since rallying from last of seven to capture the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill by almost three lengths. That race came on the heels of a blowout maiden win, and leads Flint to think he might have a prospect for major 3-year-old races at Fair Grounds in 2012.

“I was going to keep on working him and run him long – that has been the major plan all along – but this race just came up,” Flint said.

Exfactor has been working steadily and quickly, and should get a favorable setup closing into a fast pace since the presence of Brown Eyed Jozi ensures lively fractions. Brown Eyed Jozi dueled through dazzling splits Nov. 26 at Churchill but still won an allowance race by more than three lengths. Calvin Borel is in to ride for his brother, trainer Cecil Borel.

◗ Fast Alex’s fourth-place finish in the 2011 New Orleans Handicap points him out as the horse to beat in the $75,000 Tenacious, which came up with just a five-horse field.