10/29/2009 11:00PM

Focus on juveniles in Churchill opener


There are notable differences in the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, but it is their similarity that matters most. Namely: the fields will be big and the racing will be of high quality.

"I think we're going to carry over the momentum we built at Keeneland and have a great fall meet at Churchill," said Ben Huffman, who serves as racing secretary at both Kentucky tracks. "The horsemen are still complaining about their horses being excluded from races, and they're still clamoring for stalls. It's a good time of year."

Indeed, with the shorter daytime hours, the cooler climate, the move from Polytrack to dirt, and the divergent demographics in Lexington and Louisville, the 21-day Churchill meet that runs Sunday through Nov. 28 will carry, as usual, a distinctly disparate feel than the three weeks that just passed at Keeneland. In any case, the Churchill meet will get off to a rousing start: it's the first of two "Stars of Tomorrow" cards, the popular 2-year-old-only concept that Churchill initiated four years ago under the tenure of former racing secretary Doug Bredar.

Twin stakes, the Pocahontas (race 8) and Iroquois (race 10), anchor an 11-race Sunday card that also includes two allowances and six maiden special-weight races, all with sizable fields. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.

Both the Pocahontas and Iroquois are Grade 3, $100,000, one-turn-mile races. They serve as respective preps for the Golden Rod and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which bookend the meet as staples of a second "Stars of Tomorrow" card on closing day.

The Pocahontas, with 13 fillies, is about as deep as you can get. Decelerator, one of two uncoupled horses (with Tidal Pool) entered by D. Wayne Lukas, won the Debutante Stakes as the favorite here at the spring meet but has been off form since then, likely leaving the race open to something else, maybe Tiz Miz Sue, Vertical Vision, Vivid Colors, or All About Anna.

All About Anna is one of two uncoupled horses (with Running Bride) entered by Eddie Kenneally, who was particularly pleased with the way the Maria's Mon filly ran off to a six-length triumph in the Sept. 5 Bassinet Stakes at River Downs.

The Iroquois, which drew a field of 12, also has a Lukas runner with a notable prior accomplishment in Dublin, who captured the Grade 1 Hopeful on closing day of the Saratoga meet before disappointing when fifth as the odds-on favorite in his lone subsequent start, the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont. Dublin has been supplemented to the Iroquois for a $5,000 fee.

"He's my best 2-year-old and he may be one of the best in the country," Lukas said. "Over the past few years, he ranks with the best that I have had."

Rajiv Maragh will be in from New York to ride Decelerator and Dublin.

Besides Dublin, other contenders in the Iroquois include Uh Oh Bango, an Oklahoma shipper whose 102 Beyer Speed Figure in a September win at Prairie Meadows ranks as the highest of any 2-year-old colt or gelding in North America; Call Shot, most recently a sharp second in a recent Keeneland allowance; and Fist of Rage, who was pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Turf but ranks far down on the list of also-eligibles for both races next Saturday at Santa Anita.

The Sunday stakes are the first two of 12 set for this fall at Churchill. As always, the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap on Nov. 27 is the biggest race of the meet.

Many familiar faces will be back for this meet, including jockeys Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, and Julien Leparoux, and trainers Steve Asmussen, Mike Maker, and Dale Romans.

Romans, the Louisville native who has been a perennial top trainer for the last decade at his hometown track, said his typically slow Keeneland meet should be followed by considerably more action here. He has runners in five races Sunday, including Sassy Image in the Pocahontas.

"That's what we always do, kind of regroup during Keeneland and gear up for Churchill," Romans said.

Huffman said that although purse levels are "basically the same as last fall" with a per-day distribution of about $405,000, "we are running five fewer days" than in 2008, which essentially amounts to a purse decrease because of the fewer opportunities for horsemen.

"What you're running for in maiden and allowance races, that's all the same," he said.

A 2010 wall calendar will be given to the first 5,000 customers Sunday.


Racing schedule: 21 days; Sunday through Nov. 28; dark Mondays and Tuesdays; open Nov. 24

Post times: 12:40 p.m. Eastern; 11:30 a.m. on last three days

Admission: General, $3; senior citizens and Twin Spires members, $1; reserved seating additional

Parking: Longfield Ave. lot, free; preferred lots, $3; valet, $5

Average purses: $405,000 per day

Phone: (502) 636-4400

Internet: .