11/12/2009 12:00AM

Harlem Rocker back off year layoff


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The controversy that erupted the last time Harlem Rocker was in a horse race has subsided. It was Nov. 29, 2008, when Harlem Rocker launched a huge rally to cross under the wire first in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, only to be disqualified for what the Aqueduct stewards ruled as stretch interference against Tale of Ekati, the eventual winner.

Trainer Todd Pletcher had hoped to run Harlem Rocker back in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in late January at Gulfstream Park, but those plans were scrapped when Harlem Rocker came down with a temperature. Next thing you know, it's November 2009, and Harlem Rocker, now 4, has yet to race since the Cigar Mile. That gap between starts is scheduled to end Saturday, when Harlem Rocker returns as the heavy favorite in a $56,000 allowance at seven furlongs at Churchill Downs.

Bred and owned by the Stronach Stables of Frank Stronach, Harlem Rocker was sent to Adena Springs, Stronach's farm in Ocala, Fla., after missing the Donn.

"He had a relapse after that, and it's been one thing after another before we've been able to get him back," Pletcher said Thursday from New York.

Harlem Rocker, a gray colt by Macho Uno, shows a series of sharp recent breezes over the Belmont Park training track.

"He's trained as good or better than he ever has," said Pletcher. "If his training is any indication, he should run well Saturday, and that should be a good lead-in to the Hal's Hope at Gulfstream Park on opening day."

The Hal's Hope will be run Jan. 3.

The Harlem Rocker comeback directly precedes the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes as the eighth of 10 races Saturday at Churchill. John Velazquez will ride Harlem Rocker, who breaks from post 5 in a field of eight.

Earlier races feature stakes horses

Several other Saturday races have drawn some horses of interest.

In the third race, a $52,000 allowance, Guam Typhoon will try to rebound from a disappointing effort in the Kentucky Cup Sprint, a Sept. 26 race that marked his synthetic-track debut. Guam Typhoon, trained by Ian Wilkes, won three straight races here in the spring.

In the fourth, a one-mile turf race for $40,000 claimers, several horses boast considerable stakes experience, including Inca King, winner of the Commonwealth Turf here last fall, and Old Man Buck, who is returning from a short-lived and futile career at steeplechasing.

The 10th, a maiden-special sprint, got Soldier Field, a second-time starter owned by WinStar Farm. He is named for the historic football stadium in Chicago.

"We also have an unstarted 2-year-old named Lambeau," said WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden, referring to the home field of the Green Bay Packers. "We're big sports fans."

Indiana Downs taking wagers

With Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., having closed its simulcast operations Sunday, fans in the tri-state area around the track are now being allowed to wager on Kentucky races at the Indiana Downs OTB parlor in Evansville, Ind., just a few miles from Ellis.

For years, signals from Kentucky tracks have not been permitted at two of the five existing Indiana OTBs because of their proximity to competing facilities in Kentucky. Besides the parlor in Evansville, the other is in Clarksville, just across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville. The ban continues at the Clarksville site.

Ellis has scaled back its live and simulcast operations in the face of financial duress and has laid off about 75 full-time and part-time employees until about April 1, when the track will reopen for simulcasts of the Keeneland spring meet and the ban once again will go into effect in Evansville.

Giant Oak works for the Clark

Giant Oak, pointing to the Nov. 27 Clark Handicap, breezed five furlongs here Wednesday in 1:02. Macho Again, winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster here in June, looks like the early favorite for the $400,000 Clark, unless Einstein joins him in the lineup, a move his connections are seriously considering.

Meanwhile, Pletcher said Quality Road will not run in the Clark. Scratched after acting up at the gate before the Breeders' Cup Classic last weekend, Quality Road was expected to lay over a few days at Churchill after being vanned here from California.

"Then he'll come here to New York, and we'll regroup with him," said Pletcher.

* Jockey Chris Emigh was scheduled to miss three days of racing after experiencing bruising and body soreness from a spill on the turf in the sixth race here Wednesday. Emigh's agent, Terry "Jaws" Miller, said Emigh intended to ride Sunday after taking off all mounts Thursday through Saturday. "He's sore, but fortunately he's going to be fine," said Miller.

* Fans driving from the south or east to Churchill on Saturday are advised that a noon Eastern kickoff is scheduled for the Syracuse-Louisville football game at nearby Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.