04/27/2003 11:00PM

Final Round a must-see in La Troienne


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs will run 13 stakes races this week before the Kentucky Derby, beginning with a trio of $100,000 events on Thursday's 10-race card.

A field of seven was entered for the Grade 3, $100,000 La Troienne at seven furlongs. Anyone who saw the Grade 3 Forward Gal at Gulfstream has been waiting for Final Round to run back. After stumbling badly at the start and falling way out of it under Pat Day in the Forward Gal, Final Round closed like a rocket to be second to Midnight Cry. Day, who has won the La Troienne nine times, has the call for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Just Bill Me is the only stakes winner in the field, having taken a trio of minor stakes in Florida. She will make her first start for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who bought a part interest in the filly.

Also entered are Real Bear, Lovely Sage, Fast Cookie, Crow Jane and Stellar.

Repository, Crystal Sea, and On the Fritz - the top three finishes from the $84,000 Stravinsky Stakes at Keeneland on April 19 - head a 10-horse field entered in the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes for fillies and mares at five furlongs on turf.

Fans of steeplechase racing will be treated to the Grade 1, $100,000 Hard Scuffle at 2 1/16 miles. Naughty Prince, 2 for 2 over the jumps this year, and Preemptive Strike, runner-up in the Sport of Kings Stakes at Atlantic City last Wednesday, head the eight-horse field.

Also Thursday, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Sarava, is entered in a one-mile allowance race. Sarava, who would be making his first start for Bob Baffert, drew on the also-eligible list and would need two scratches to get in. On Monday, Sarava drilled four furlongs in 46.80 seconds at Churchill.

With Anticipation back for Woodford

Last year, With Anticipation made his first start of the year in five-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park, a seemingly unconventional spot for an older gelding known for success in turf marathons.

This year, he is starting at the top.

Trainer Jonathan Sheppard is sending the 8-year-old With Anticipation to Churchill Downs for Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

Run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, the Woodford Reserve will be With Anticipation's first start since he finished a game second to High Chaparral in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park last October. That race came at the end of a campaign that included three major stakes wins and a second in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.

This spring, Sheppard considered giving With Anticipation a prep race at Gulfstream Park but later decided to ship the gray from Camden, S.C., to Miami strictly for workouts.

"I had thought about giving him a prep in an allowance race at the end of the Gulfstream Park meeting," Sheppard said by phone from Florida on Monday. "I didn't run him down here because he had a couple of works in Camden that were slightly mismanaged, a combination of miscommunication between trainer and rider.

"If I had brought him down here [to race], he would have run his heart out. It wouldn't have done him any good. I did bring him down and gave him a couple of nice works."

Ultimately, Sheppard is hoping that With Anticipation can earn a return trip to the Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run at Santa Anita in October. A win in the Woodford Reserve would be a bonus.

"This race is not his primary objective," Sheppard said. "But I'm not going to treat it with disdain, either."

With Anticipation is one of eight probables for the Woodford Reserve. The field is expected to include Century City, Honor in War, Miesque's Approval, Perfect Drift, Requete, Rouvres, and Stormin' Heaven.

Breakdowns called just coincidence

You couldn't really blame Derby newcomers who have been on the Churchill Downs backstretch the past few mornings if they believed that the blaring of a long, loud horn is part of a daily ritual.

Indeed, in the minutes following the regular harrow break on each of the last three mornings, the mournful sound that alerts everyone to a fallen or loose horse has filled the air.

On each of those mornings, a horse fell and subsequently was euthanized. Saturday, it was Midnight Cry, a graded stakes winner for Ken McPeek. Sunday, it was an unidentified horse trained by Carl Bowman. Monday, it was Svenson, an allowance-level gelding trained by Richard Kohnhorst.

Above all that, fans in attendance Sunday witnessed the breakdown of Quick Draw, a D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt who won the Hansel Stakes at Turfway Park in March. Quick Draw, ridden by Pat Day, shattered his right foreleg when contending for the lead midway through the final turn of the ninth race. Day fell hard to the ground but was not injured. The colt was later euthanized.

The breakdowns are highly uncharacteristic of what horsemen have come to expect of the Churchill surface, which long has drawn praise for being safe and even.

"My horse wasn't the soundest in the world," said a saddened Kohnhorst. "He had a crooked conformation, and the bell tolled for him this morning. From my point of view, the track had nothing to do with it. I know some guys have been having some bad luck lately, but I honestly think it's just one of those streaks that happen once in a blue moon."

Private Gold has ankle injury

Yet another casualty, although not a fatal one, to exit a race at Churchill last weekend was Private Gold, who finished a badly beaten fifth in the Derby Trial. Trainer Pat Byrne reported that Private Gold, winner of the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway in his previous start, exited the Trial with an ankle fracture. The injury is not believed to be career-threatening.

"He'll be operated on sometime this week," said Byrne. "I knew something was wrong when he didn't have his usual kick."

Three allowances Wednesday

Three allowance races should form the core of interest on the Wednesday program at Churchill. The richest of those races, a $47,400 turf route for fillies and mares, occupies the nominal ninth-race feature slot on the 10-race program.

Blu Spur, a Pete Vestal-trained filly by Northern Spur, could have a slight edge in the feature. Day has been named to ride.

As usual, Day also has live mounts in the other allowances on the card, having been named by Elliott Walden on Guana in the sixth and by Dallas Stewart aboard Molto Vita in the eighth.

First post Wednesday and Thursday is 12:45 p.m. Eastern. First post Friday and Saturday is 11:15 a.m. After the Derby, Churchill switches to a daily post of 1:15, except for twilight Fridays, when first post is 2:45.

Awesome Humor getting close

Awesome Humor, the undefeated winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes, may make her 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes on May 15 at Pimlico, her trainer, Walden, said Monday. Walden said his first major objective with Awesome Humor this year is the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont on June 6, but said the Miss Preakness may be used as a prep.

On Sunday, Awesome Humor was credited with a half-mile breeze in 48.80 seconds.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Marty McGee