04/23/2004 11:00PM

Four fillies enter sprint off victories


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - They can't all be stellar cards. The spectacular racing that awaits fans at Churchill Downs this weekend means the preceding programs have to pale in comparison, although that smidgen of bad news won't preclude thousands of fans from coming out to break up an otherwise mundane Tuesday.

In fact, when Kentucky Derby week begins at Churchill on Tuesday, races with large fields will be the order of the day, an enticement always welcomed by everyday players. Eight of the 10 races drew nine or more starters, a somewhat predictable result of claiming horses - many of them lacking other opportunities to run here until next week at the earliest - taking over for most of an afternoon.

Except for a starter-allowance sprint that goes as race 2, the only non-claiming event on the program is the ninth-race feature. Seven 3-year-old fillies, four of whom won their last starts, will race seven furlongs in the $47,900 feature, an allowance race governed by entry-level conditions.

Peer, a Pulpit filly who drew strong play in both starts when she began her career this winter at Gulfstream Park, looks as good as any in a well-matched field. Bred and owned by Seth Hancock's Cherry Valley Farm, Peer came through with a maiden victory in the second of those starts to earn an 81 Beyer Speed Figure, a number that should make her highly competitive in this spot.

Bia Valentine also enters off a victory in the maiden-special ranks, having won at first asking earlier this month at Oaklawn Park for Mr. and Mrs. James Winn and trainer Bob Holthus, the connections of Kentucky Derby hopeful Pro Prado. Bia Valentine also took heavy action when being unveiled.

Family Business, trained by Dallas Stewart, captured a maiden-special race in her most recent appearance, albeit in a two-turn Fair Grounds event. Having had two months off, she now turns back slightly in distance in a quest that seems eminently doable, especially with Pat Day named to ride.

Abbeys Runner is the fourth last-out winner, having prevailed against $50,000 claiming sprinters at Oaklawn.

As for the others, Oneofacat probably looks best, having earned an 87 Beyer when posting a respectable third-place finish in her recent return to action at Keeneland. Neil Howard is the trainer of Oneofacat, who figures as one of the top betting choices here.