Updated on 09/15/2011 2:29PM

Falls City a hot holiday feast

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Unbridled Elaine, winner of this year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, meets the 2000 victor, Spain in the Falls City 'Cap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For races such as the Falls City Handicap, fans of horse racing are thankful. A blockbuster matching six Grade 1 winners is a rarity indeed, so the fact it will happen at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving Day seems altogether fitting.

"It is one heck of a race," said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of topweighted Spain. "You've got three winners of Breeders' Cup races and the Spinster winner. It's one of the best filly-and-mare races all year. I don't think we had one this good all summer long."

The Falls City carries a $250,000 purse and a Grade 3 ranking, but the quality and depth of this running clearly exceeds those levels. In addition, results of the Falls City could help to sway Eclipse Award voters in both the 3-year-old filly and older filly-mare categories, neither of which currently have a standout.

The principals in the 1 1/8-mile Falls City are 3-year-old *, the one-two finishers in the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park in a race that Lukas still believes his filly could easily have won.

"I feel we probably had the best horse in the Breeders' Cup that day," said Lukas, adding he thought jockey Victor Espinoza may have moved too soon. "Victor isn't used to that 1 1/2-mile layout at Belmont. He was riding more like it was a mile track."

Nonetheless, Lukas has given the mount on Spain back to Espinoza, who won the Breeders' Cup Distaff aboard her here in 2000. Meanwhile, Pat Day, who rode Unbridled Elaine in the Distaff, will ride again for trainer Dallas Stewart.

One of the impressive aspects of the Falls City is that, even without the two favorites, the remainder of the field would have formed the core of an excellent race. That group of capable challengers is led by Miss Linda, a 4-year-old whose victory in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland made her the 6-1 third choice in the Distaff, in which she finished sixth.

"We're here to try for an Eclipse Award, too," said Loretta Lusteg, assistant to trainer John Kimmel. "Her last breeze in New York was wonderful. She's doing great coming into this."

The other starters are Caressing, who clinched a divisional Eclipse Award here last November when she upset the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies; Printemps, the Chilean import who won three Group 1 races in her homeland before coming into the Ron McAnally's barn; Forest Secrets, who upset the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont in June for trainer John T. Ward Jr.; and De Bertie, a recent allowance winner here.

Caressing, having won only once in six starts this year, would be a surprise winner, but trainer Dave Vance likes the circumstances that surround this 86th running of the Falls City.

Caressing "likes two turns and likes this track," said Vance.

Printemps, like so many South American imports for McAnally, came to California with exceptional credentials. In her first U.S. start, she won a restricted stakes at Santa Anita in April, then wheeled back a month later to capture the Grade 2 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood. In her lone start since then, she finished a creditable third behind Miss Linda as the second choice in the Spinster, after which McAnally said his filly's come-from-behind style may have been compromised by a speed-favoring Keeneland surface.

The low filly on the graded totem pole is De Bertie, whose current three-race win streak includes triumphs in a pair of graded races at Gulfstream last winter, the Sabin and Rampart.

"That's unbelievable," said Richard Klein, whose family owns De Bertie. "Everybody's a Grade 1 winner except us."

The Falls City, which dates to 1875, is carded as the ninth of 10 Thursday races. First post is 11:30 a.m. Eastern, with the last race scheduled for 3:54 p.m.



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