06/18/2009 12:00AM

Flying Pegasus looks tough in return


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ralph Nicks believes the first race for a horse following a layoff is difficult under any circumstance.

So when Flying Pegasus returns Friday night at Churchill Downs to face older horses and race under the lights for the first time after being away for more than three months, the trainer will be watching very closely.

"I don't care what they've done before, bringing them back off a layoff is never easy," Nicks said.

Flying Pegasus, bred and owned by Jim Spence, was a fringe candidate for the 134th Kentucky Derby early this year, but shortly after finishing sixth behind Friesan Fire and Papa Clem in the March 14 Louisiana Derby, the colt was taken out of training.

"He came down with a temperature and a high white-cell blood count, so we really backed off on him, gave him an easy 30 days around the barn," Nicks said.

Following a series of solid workouts, Flying Pegasus clearly looks like the horse to beat in the $52,700 allowance that serves as the feature race on the first night card at Churchill. The Fusaichi Pegasus colt was assigned post 5 in a field of seven 3-year-olds and up entered in the 10th of 11 races, a second-level allowance at seven furlongs. Robby Albarado has the mount.

"I'm hoping he runs well, because this could be a stepping-stone for some bigger things in August," Nicks said.

One other comebacker, Golden Country, looks like the primary opposition. The 4-year-old colt was narrowly beaten in the Forego Stakes in his most recent start in January.

Woods, Arguello return to ride at night

The night racing program has brought out a couple of jockeys who were mainstays here quite a while back. Charlie Woods Jr. is named to ride in the last race of the night, while Fabio Arguello Jr. will ride in the eighth and last races.

Woods, 58, has not ridden since the 2008 fall meet at Churchill and only sparingly since 2003. He has nearly 2,900 victories dating to 1974.

Arguello, 37, is best known for his win aboard Luv Me Luv Me Not in the 1992 Kentucky Oaks. A career winner of more than 1,100 races, he will be riding for the first time since May 2008 at Louisiana Downs.

Both Woods and Arguello rode for much of their careers at Turfway Park, the only Kentucky track that regularly conducts night racing.

Churchill has run in dark before

Friday marks the first night program at Churchill, although some who were on hand for the 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic might argue otherwise. Run as the last race of the program in miserably dank and chilly weather, Alysheba clinched Horse of the Year honors when gamely holding off Seeking the Gold in the Classic.

A replay of the race clearly shows how Musco Lighting, the Iowa company providing the lighting system here Friday night, could have come in handy that November afternoon. The race was run in virtual darkness, with only glimmers of light still discernible.

Lebron nears return from ankle injury

Victor Lebron, who suffered fractures and tissue damage in his right ankle in a spill on the Lane's End Stakes undercard at Turfway Park in March, is nearing the end of his rehabilitation and is accepting mounts starting Tuesday at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville, Ind.

Lebron, 24, was easily the leading rider at the 2008 Ellis Park meet and the 2009 Turfway winter-spring meet. His agent, Jimmy McNerney, said Lebron plans to ride throughout the 23-day Ellis meet that starts July 11.

Lebron's injury was serious enough for doctors to predict he would be out for six months, but his recovery went so well that he will be back in half that time.

Vance gets 300th Churchill victory

David Vance became the 11th trainer in Churchill history to win 300 races at this track when he sent out Citizen John to win the seventh race last Friday at 21-1. Vance, one of just 22 North American trainers to win more than 3,000 races overall, joined Tom Amoss and Lynn Whiting in the Churchill 300 club this meet. The next most likely to join is Greg Foley, who into Thursday's action had 297 Churchill wins.

Leparoux, Lanerie to ride Saturday at Colonial

Julien Leparoux and Corey Lanerie will miss the Saturday card at Churchill to ride instead in Virginia at Colonial Downs, where two graded stakes will be run on a 12-race card.

Leparoux will ride Lime Rickey in the Grade 2, $500,000 Colonial Cup and Icon Project in the Grade 3, $150,000 All Along Stakes, while Lanerie will ride Final Count and Precious Princess in those respective races.

* No stakes are scheduled at Churchill this weekend. The next stakes will be the $100,000 Debutante, a six-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies on June 27. Beautician, a highly impressive maiden winner earlier this month, is among the leading candidates for the Grade 3 race.

* Brad Lovell, formerly the managing director of information technology for Nascar, has been hired in a similar capacity at Keeneland.