06/24/2003 11:00PM

Few appear willing to challenge Ipi Tombe

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The long-awaited return of Ipi Tombe is all set for Saturday, when the international superstar will face what figures to be a short field of fillies and mares in the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Ipi Tombe, a winner in 11 of 13 career starts, has not raced since defeating males in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free on March 29 for former trainer Michael deKock. In the Grade 3 Locust Grove, a 1 1/8-mile grass race, she will be making her U.S. debut and her first start for trainer Elliott Walden.

"It's exciting," said Walden, who began training Ipi Tombe in mid-April. "We got the works in her that we wanted to get in her. We haven't had any setbacks since she got over here."

Ipi Tombe, a 5-year-old bred in Zimbabwe, figures to be a huge favorite under Pat Day. Other probables for the Locust Grove include Quick Tip, Kiss the Devil, San Dare, and maybe two or three more runners. Entries were to be drawn Thursday.

Walden said a decision will be made later on whether Ipi Tombe will run next in the Arlington Million or Beverly D., both set for Aug. 16 at Arlington Park.

Deal in works to sell half of Cuvee

Winchell Thoroughbreds tentatively has sold a half-interest in its standout 2-year-old Cuvee, although trainer Steve Asmussen said Wednesday that he was not at liberty to reveal the buyer because the sale had not been finalized.

Cuvee, by Carson City, has won his two career starts by a combined 14 1/2 lengths, including the May 26 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes by 8 1/4 lengths. He is expected to be a heavy favorite here closing day, July 6, in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes. Asmussen has plotted a Saratoga campaign for Cuvee following the six-furlong Bashford Manor.

Cuvee was bred by the late Verne Winchell, whose family continues to be active in the racing business.

Pair of bobblehead days at Ellis

Ellis Park has announced that the track will have two bobblehead giveaways at the 41-day meet that begins July 9.

The first, set for July 26, is a Mike Pegram bobblehead. Pegram, the prominent horse owner whose Real Quiet won the 1998 Kentucky Derby, grew up in Princeton, Ind., some 25 miles from Ellis in Henderson, Ky.

The second bobblehead, set for Aug. 23, is of R.A. "Cowboy" Jones, the legendary jockey who has ridden at Ellis in parts of six decades, beginning in the 1950's.

Infield attracts innovators

This weekend marks the return of the annual Brew and Barbecue Fest in the Churchill infield. Besides offering beer and barbecue specialties, live music will be provided during most of the day.

Churchill occasionally opens its infield on weekends during the spring meet, which in previous years has given way to some innovative ideas about the following year's Kentucky Derby.

Several years ago a man tried to discreetly dig a sizable hole in the ground and bury a big bottle of whiskey, then mark the spot so that he could dig it up on Derby Day, when patrons are closely searched to make sure that they are not bringing liquor into the track. Unfortunately for the man, his plot was foiled by security.

* Among the six or seven horses shipping from Churchill to Prairie Meadows for upcoming stakes are Champali and Saint Liam, two of the favorites for the $250,000 Iowa Derby on July 5, and Golden Marlin, a major contender for the $125,000 Iowa Oaks on July 4.

* Tenpins, unraced since last November, is being pointed to the July 26 Salvatore Mile at Monmouth Park, said trainer Don Winfree. Tenpins, a 5-year-old Michigan-bred, breezed seven furlongs Tuesday in 1:26.60 at Churchill.