04/29/2008 12:00AM

Frankel packs a punch on Oaks Day


LOUISVILLE, Fla. - Trainer Bobby Frankel may not have a horse in this year's Kentucky Derby, but the Hall of Famer will be a major player Friday on Oaks Day, sending out top contenders in three of the six stakes on the card, including Country Star in the main event and Eclipse Award champion Ginger Punch in the $300,000 Louisville Stakes.

The Grade 2 Louisville tops the Oaks Day undercard, which also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Crown Royal American Turf for 3-year-olds and its filly counterpart, the $150,000 Edgewood Stakes, plus the Grade 3, $150,000 Alysheba for older horses on the main track and the Grade 3, $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint.

Ginger Punch will be favored to make amends for her third-place finish as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap when she takes on six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Louisville. Ginger Punch will carry high weight of 124 pounds under the allowance conditions of the Louisville and will be reunited with regular rider Rafael Bejarano when she faces Grade 1 winner Lear's Princess, Silver Knockers, Kettleoneup, Bayou's Lassie, Unforgotten, and Leah's Secret.

Frankel also will send out the improving Giant Gizmo in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba. Giant Gizmo is coming off a career-best effort, rallying to a 1 1/4-length allowance victory at Santa Anita on Feb. 25.

"I have no excuse for Ginger Punch's last race, but she looks good and is training well, and this looks like an easier spot for her," said Frankel. "I scratched Giant Gizmo out of a race in California last week for this one because I thought it would be an easier spot, and I just hope I did the right thing. This will only be his second start on dirt, but we kind of rushed him to the lead the first time last year at Belmont, and I think he's the kind of horse that will do better if he can chase."

The Alysheba will feature the 2008 stakes debut of Chelokee, who is returning to Churchill Downs for the first time since winning the Grade 3 Northern Dancer Stakes in June. Chelokee did not race again at 3 following his neck decision over Zanjero in the Northern Dancer. He came back from a 9 1/2-month layoff to be a 1 1/2-length allowance winner at Gulfstream Park on March 29 and brings a three-race win streak into the Alybsheba.

The multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed Wanderin Boy, idle since finishing a distant fourth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, and Magna Graduate are among the other key contenders in the compact but highly competitive Alysheba lineup.

Halo Najib was 21st on the graded earnings list and still hopeful of cracking the Kentucky Derby lineup when he was entered Tuesday for the Crown Royal American Turf. Halo Najib, second behind the Derby-bound Adriano in the Grade 2 Lane's End and more recently a nonthreatening seventh in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, will be making his grass debut if he goes in the Crown Royal.

Prussian, among the favorites in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, returns to the grass for the first time as a 3-year-old and could be the one to beat in the Crown Royal. Prussian opened his career with two impressive grass wins before finishing a tiring 10th over a yielding course in the Breeders' Cup. Prussian led into the stretch before finishing fourth behind Boss Lafitte in Keeneland's Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes over Polytrack in his lone start at 3.

Prussian is trained by Bill Mott, who will send out Zee Zee in the Edgewood. Zee Zee fared poorly over the wet going at Monmouth Park on Breeders' Cup Day in the Juvenile Fillies after winning 2 of her first 3 career starts on grass.

The Edgewood also will be the 3-year-old debut of Grace and Power, who has not started since finishing second behind Country Star in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in her juvenile finale.

Turf sprint specialists Mr. Nightlinger, The Nth Degree, Sgt. Bert, and Salute the Count are among the leading contenders in the Aegon Turf Sprint.

No guaranteed pools this year

Churchill will not offer guaranteed pools on several multi-race wagers on Derby Day, as had become standard practice in recent years, saying the guarantee is unnecessary.

"The pools are so big anyway, we just don't need them," said the track's general manager, Jim Gates.

Last year, the guaranteed (and actual) pools on all races ending with the Derby, the 10th race, were as follows: pick three, $750,000 ($1.3 million); pick four, $1 million ($2.2 million); and pick six, $750,000 ($1.4 million).

As for the Derby Day pick six, there is no mandatory payout, and in some prior years that has resulted in a huge carryover for the Wednesday after the Derby. In addition, the Super High Five, which will be offered this year on both the Derby and Oaks for the first time, also has a carryover provision.

Once again Churchill is offering the Oaks-Derby double, the two-day wager that made its debut in 1996. Last year, handle on the Oaks-Derby double was more than $2.3 million. Because the Oaks is carded as the 10th of 11 Friday races, there will be no late double on the Oaks card so as to avoid confusion with the Oaks-Derby double.

Polly want a Derby win?

You wouldn't think trainer Larry Jones needed any more friends at this time of year, what with the demand for Derby and Oaks seats. But Jones said he has a new best friend - a 9-month-old African gray parrot named Buddy who has become the most colorful member of the Jones stable.

Jones, the trainer of Eight Belles and Proud Spell, said he "always wanted a bird," and was given Buddy as a Christmas gift.

Spotlight on 1978 Crown

WAVE-TV, the local NBC affiliate, is airing a half-hour special commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry. The program will include footage from the 1978 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont - races that Affirmed swept in becoming the most recent Triple Crown winner - along with interviews with John Veitch and Jorge Velasquez, the trainer and rider of Alydar, and Steve Cauthen, the rider of Affirmed.

The program airs Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Caton Bredar, who spent most of her career in racing television before moving to WAVE about two years ago, served as the writer, researcher, and co-producer of the show.- additional reporting by Marty McGee