05/29/2008 11:00PM

Foster Cap a tough sell

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The ominous prospect of Curlin making his return to action in the June 14 Stephen Foster Handicap has Churchill Downs officials scrambling for some worthy opponents. As of Friday, Churchill's racing secretary, Ben Huffman, said Circular Quay, Grasshopper, and Jonesboro "are the only three horses also under serious consideration, at least that I know of."

Huffman, like any pessimistic racing official worth his condition book, said he wasn't even 100 percent sure that Churchill will be getting Curlin for the $750,000 Foster Cap, but when asked Friday about the Grade 1 race, trainer Steve Asmussen said, "I'm preparing him to run in it."

Asmussen said Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, is scheduled to work at Churchill each of the next two Mondays, June 2 and 9, with a seven-furlong drill planned for this coming Monday.

Curlin, a 4-year-old colt owned primarily by the Stonestreet Stables of Jess Jackson, was a 7 3/4-length winner of the $6 million Dubai World Cup in his last start March 29. Curlin has earned more than $8.8 million.

Five other graded stakes are set for Foster Day: the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, Grade 2 Jefferson Cup, Grade 3 Northern Dancer, Grade 3 Regret, and Grade 3 Mint Julep. Nominations for all Foster Day stakes were due Saturday.

Except for the Foster card, no other stakes will be run at Churchill from Sunday through June 27. The June 28 feature is the $100,000 Debutante Stakes. The spring meet ends July 6.

Leparoux, Albarado battle it out

Julien Leparoux rode the winners of both allowance races on the Thursday card at Churchill when Master Mizzen ($3.60) and Grand Obsession ($6.40), both favorites, prevailed on the turf.

The second half of the 52-day Churchill spring meet gets under way Sunday, and Leparoux was locked in a tight battle for leading rider with Robby Albarado, who also rode two winners Thursday. Into Friday action, Albarado led by a 30-29 count.

Clever Bertie euthanized

Clever Bertie, the dam of multiple stakes winners Hurricane Bertie and Allamerican Bertie, was euthanized Friday morning at Clarkland Farm in Lexington, Ky., from complications suffered after giving birth last week to an A.P. Indy foal who also had to be euthanized. Clever Bertie, owned by Bert, Elaine, and Richard Klein, was 17.

"She was our blue hen," said Richard Klein, whose family has been a perennial leading breeder and owner on the Kentucky circuit for more than a decade. "She was the foundation mare for all the good horses we've had through the years. She was the one that got us started."

* T.V. Smith attended the races Thursday for the first time since he retired last November after training for nearly 50 years. Smith, 70, was at Churchill to watch Posse Cat, a horse he turned over to Ian Wilkes for one of his last clients, Patrick Donahoe.

* Trainer Al Stall Jr. is a father for the second time. Stall's wife, Nicole, gave birth to a daughter, Greta, on Tuesday night in Louisville.